The United States yesterday desperately sought Thailand's help to get into cyclone-ravaged Burma and deliver humanitarian assistance to millions of storm victims in the secretive country.
US Ambassador Eric John met Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej to ask him to facilitate permission from Burmese leaders for the US emergency relief team to enter the country.
Samak gave some assurance that he and his government would work closely with the US to help Burma, John said.
However, Samak failed to get through to paramount leader Than Shwe and his deputy Muang Aye due to poor communications, government spokesman Wichianchot Sukchotrat said.
If contact cannot be made, Samak will fly to Burma soon to talk to the leader, the spokesman said.
John urged the junta leaders to make a quick decision to let the US disaster team, waiting in Bangkok, get in soon.
"A visa that we get today is worth a lot more lives than tomorrow and worth a lot of lives than the day after tomorrow," he told a press briefing.
"If today the visa is delayed, more and more people would be suffering significantly in Burma."
The US government is ready to provide assistance and through its Agency for International Development offered US$3.25 million (Bt104 million) initial assistance for the relief effort.
Burmese state media reported that the cyclone killed 22,980 persons and left 42,119 missing. The figures are unconfirmed and could rise.
"The high number of deaths and missing increases our concerns and our desire to provide assistance to those who need it now," John said.
Burma's leaders distrust Western countries and are reluctant to allow their personnel in the country.
John showed the media the team his government would send to Burma.
"These are humanitarian workers," he said. "They are ready to go in to help. They are not going in to overthrow the government. They are not going in to spy. They have specific skills for immediately responding to disaster. These are the faces and these are the people we want to send in to Burma."
He dismissed a report that the Thai Supreme Command managed to get landing permission from Burma for US C-130 military aircraft.
Bill Berger from USAid said Burmese leaders have nothing to fear from the C-130. Although it was a military aircraft, it would be loaded with only items for assistance.