13th May 2021

French call to force aid into Burma rejected

The European Commission has rejected a French call for aid to cyclone-ravaged Burma to be delivered by force.

Burma, under military rule since 1962, was hit by a devastating cyclone on 3 May. The Burmese foreign minister, Nyan Win, has said that 22,464 people were killed, with another 41,000 missing. However, aid agencies and diplomats fear that as many as 100,000 have been killed with a million left homeless.

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  • As many as 100,000 people may have been killed as a result of Cyclone Nargis (Photo: Xianzi Tan)

The Burmese generals have appealed for international aid, but has at the same time stalled foreign relief efforts and reluctant to issue visas to aid workers. In the areas worst hit by Cyclone Nargis almost no aid has been delivered.

"We cannot force the entry, the delivery of aid, we are not in a position to do that," commission spokesperson Amadeu Altafaj Tardio said at a news briefing for reporters on Thursday (8 May).

"We put the accent on the diplomatic efforts to convince the Burmese authorities that the best way to assist the population is to allow humanitarian organizations to work independently."

The commission's spokesperson was responding to an appeal by French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner on Wednesday that the United Nations should invoke its "responsibility to protect" civilians and deliver aid by force with or without the permission of the Burmese military junta.

Mr Kouchner had said Paris was considering drafting a UN Security Council resolution that would permit aid agencies to enter the country without the generals' approval.

Responsibility to protect, or 'R2P' as academics refer to the concept, is a recent development in international relations. Recognised by the UN in 2005, R2P provides a grounding for so-called humanitarian intervention by external forces when a state is unwilling or unable to prevent massive human rights violations.

Mr Tardio said that international donors and the UN were putting diplomatic pressure on the regime to allow aid in, and that the government had permitted three European Commission aid experts to enter on Thursday.

The EU has pledged €2 million in emergency aid to the country, to be distributed through international aid organisations. The commission has also said it is to increase the staff in its Rangoon office to assist the humanitarian effort.

John Holmes, UN undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, also rejected the French suggestion, saying diplomatic efforts were beginning to pay off.

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