Burma Delays Cost 'Thousands Of Lives'

Tens of thousands of people died because Burma's junta rejected foreign aid offers for cyclone victims, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates has declared.

The Pentagon chief accused the country's military rulers of being "deaf and dumb" to pleas to allow in more international help.

Mr Gates contrasted Burma's reluctance to accept aid after Cyclone Nargis struck four weeks ago with Indonesia and Bangladesh welcoming relief efforts in recent years.

"We worked with both nations to alleviate suffering, while fastidiously respecting their sovereignty," he said, referring to the 2005 tsunami in Indonesia and a cyclone in Bangladesh last November.

"With Burma, the situation has been very different - at a cost of tens of thousands of lives.

"Many other countries besides the United States have also felt hindered in their efforts."

Mr Gates was speaking to Asian security and defence officials in Singapore.

The US military was allowed to fly cargo planes of aid to the country's biggest city, Rangoon.

But it said it could be much more effective if the ruling junta would let nearby US ships and helicopters deliver supplies directly to affected areas.

Despite the appeals, the junta has largely barred foreign aid workers from gaining access to the south-west Irrawaddy Delta, which bore the brunt of the storm.

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They couldn't let that happen. That would mean the supplies would have a much better chance of actually reaching those that need them rather than the black market.