UN appoints new head of Myanmar operations amid aid negotiations

The United Nations announced on Sunday the appointment of diplomat Bishow Parajuli as its country head for Myanmar, replacing Charles Petrie who was abruptly expelled by the junta last year.

The newly appointed representative of the UN Development Programme (UNDP) will coordinate the work of all UN agencies in Myanmar, spokesman Aye Win told AFP.

The appointment of Parajuli, who previously served as director of the UN's World Food Programme in Egypt, was announced in the junta's daily newspaper, the New Light of Myanmar.

"Mr Bishow Parajuli... presented his credentials to U Nyan Win, Minister for Foreign Affairs," it said.

The junta announced in November that it would not renew Petrie's mission, leaving the isolated country without a permanent UN head for six months.

Petrie's removal came during international pressure on the junta to reform after it violently crushed mass anti-government protests in late September, killing at least 31 people, the UN has estimated.

The junta announced his expulsion after Petrie released a statement warning of a "deteriorating humanitarian situation" in Myanmar.

UN agencies and about 50 countries opened a donor conference in Yangon on Sunday to raise money for Myanmar after Cyclone Nargis, with delegates expected to press the junta to make good on a promise to allow in foreign aid workers.

WANING RELUCTANCE

Myanmar's prime minister announced at Sunday's donor conference that the military leadership "will consider" allowing foreign aid workers to join the relief operation after deadly Cyclone Nargis.

"For those groups who are interested in rehabilitation and reconstruction, my government is ready to accept them, in accordance with our priorities and the extent of work that needs to be done," Thein Sein said.

"We will consider allowing them if they wish to engage in rehabilitation and reconstruction work, township by township," he said in Myanmar's first reaction to the UN's announcement that the junta would let in foreign aid staff.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said he was "very much encouraged" by the prime minister's remarks at the opening of an international donors conference on the cyclone-hit nation.

Ban announced on Friday that he had got approval from Myanmar to allow foreign aid workers into the country, after weeks of delays that have left more than two million cyclone survivors in immediate need of food and other supplies.

"We would warmly welcome any assistance and aid which are provided with genuine goodwill from any country or organisation, provided that there are no strings attached nor politicisation involved," the prime minister said.

"Donation of relief supplies for the cyclone victims in Myanmar will be accepted through land routes, by sea or by air," he said, adding that supplies would be stored at the port of Yangon as well as at Yangon airport.

"From there the government will facilitate transportation of these supplies to the affected areas. We will also facilitate those who wish to visit the cyclone-stricken areas," Thein Sein said.

The May 2-3 storm left more than 133,000 people dead or missing, and the United Nations says three-quarters of 2.4 million people needing emergency international aid have yet to get it.

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