Laos has sent an emergency medical team to neighboring Burma to aid relief efforts there, as more than a million people struggle to survive in the aftermath of devastating Cyclone Nargis.
The Lao government has sent 22 medics and two translators to set up a camp for refugees in Burma, and more supply shipments will follow, according to Lao Foreign Ministry spokesman Yong Chanthalangsy.
“We will be helping with a camp which will be set up temporarily,” he said, for some 200 people. “In addition, we will be testing for diseases in the surrounding areas which were also affected by the storm.”
“Regarding provisions, after the [medical] team departed on May 18, there was another flight transporting items, and two more will follow,” Chanthalangsy said.
The move comes as Burma's southeast Asian neighbors held meetings with the country's military leaders in an attempt to launch a new regional aid effort to help those hit by the storm.
New aid initiative
Surin Pitsuwan, secretary-general of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), met for 45 minutes with Burmese Prime Minister Thein Sein to explain how the new aid mechanism would work.
He also urged Thein Sein to take rapid steps to ease the situation for 2 million people still in need of housing, food, and medicine nearly three weeks after the cyclone.
ASEAN, which groups Burma, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam, is set to host a donor meeting with the United Nations on Sunday in Rangoon to raise funds for cyclone recovery.
Meanwhile, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon headed to Burma on Wednesday, looking to convince the generals who have snubbed his phone calls to accept a full-scale cyclone relief operation.
The Lao team brought in all its own supplies, including food and medicine, using a 40-seat civilian airplane, officials said.
Burmese authorities have allowed the Lao team into the country for two weeks, although what will happen after that time is unclear.
Another 50 medical personnel have volunteered to help in Burma as well, officials said.
The Burmese junta has drawn intense international fire for refusing to allow foreign aid workers into the country, where the death toll from Cyclone Nargis currently stands at 78,000 dead, with another 56,000 missing.
Hundreds of thousands of people are homeless and the United Nations has said that less than one-quarter of the 2.4 million people affected have received aid.
Medical care inside Laos, one of the world’s poorest countries, is limited, and international travelers are generally cautioned to seek any necessary medical treatment in Thailand.
Original reporting by Viengsay Luangkhot for RFA’s Lao service. Executive producer: Susan Lavery. Service director: Viengsay Luangkhot. Written for the Web in English by Sarah Jackson-Han. Edited by Luisetta Mudie.