In a telephone conversation with United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Saturday, Merkel asked Ban to “intensify contact with the government of Myanmar and its neighbouring countries” in the hope of accelerating aid distribution. The United Nations has said that a week after Cyclone Nargis hit, only one-quarter of the victims have received any help at all, and it has called the relief effort “a race against time.”
Though Myanmar’s military regime had allowed UN relief supplies to enter the country, it has refused to allow in its aid workers, saying it would take over distribution. The excruciatingly slow delivery of large-scale aid amid growing dangers of disease and starvation in the cyclone-affected regions has angered governments and people around the world. On Saturday, Myanmar’s regime earned further international criticism as it went ahead with a referendum on controversial changes to the country’s constitution, largely seen as cementing the military’s grip on power, despite the humanitarian disaster.
Merkel spoke of being “overwhelmed by the terrible images of human suffering” coming out of Myanmar on Friday, and has already backed a French proposal seeking to involve the UN’s Security Council on the issue. French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Saturday said the Myanmar government was behaving in an “utterly reprehensible” manner.
There are growing calls within Germany to use the UN to raise the pressure on Myanmar’s military junta to open its doors to international aid.
“The international community has the responsibility and the right to help people in crisis even when their own government resists it,” German Development Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul told newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.
“If normal aid groups such as the World Food Programme can’t manage to deliver relief then we have to think about a UN resolution,” German Defence Minister Franz Josef Jung told the same paper. “You can’t simply look on as people in such a dire situation are left completely in the lurch,” he said.