U.N. Head Tries to Get Myanmar Generals to See Reality

On the plane ride into Myanmar this morning, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon admitted he was anxious about his high-stakes mission to get the military leaders here to accept more international aid for the estimated 2.5 million survivors of the cyclone.

"I will not be used," he said. "My sole purpose, my primary concern, is to talk to them to allow aid workers as quickly as possible. ... I know that they understand this. My proposal is quite clear."

The mild-mannered, relentlessly affable South Korean said that Myanmar's ruling generals are too far removed from the suffering of their people and that he hoped to connect them with reality.

Speaking about the junta, Ban said, "They have shown some signs of flexibility recently. … I'm going to meet Senior Gen. Than Shwe tomorrow [Friday], and I'm going to make this case extremely clear to them to allow as many aid workers as possible."


In Ban's first full day on the ground, however, he was served a heaping dose of the junta's version of reality.

Upon arrival, his hosts drove him through city streets largely cleared of debris by soldiers. They then squired him around the Shwedegong Pagoda, a massive Buddhist shrine and the nation's most famous tourist attraction.

Even so, Ban pushed the reclusive, repressive government to accept international aid, saying to officials while at the shrine: "So many people who are still suffering from this tragedy -- they really need, badly, your help and our help."

When it came time to visit the affected areas, Ban didn't witness the scenes of chaos and squalor seen on television, but instead was taken to an orderly row of blue tents, with refugee families dutifully lined up out front.


His aides soon began grumbling about getting a sanitized view of the situation.

The next stop on Ban's helicopter tour was even more choreographed -- a military installation where a briefing area was set up, with cans of Fanta soda and plates of sliced fruit.

Fanta and sliced fruit would be a luxury for the 2.5 million survivors of Myanmar's devastating cyclone that killed 78,000 and left 56,000 more missing. The country's reclusive government has only grudgingly allowed in some aid and only a handful of international relief experts.

The United Nations estimates that only 25 percent of those needing shelter, food, water and medicine have received any help so far. There are reports from aid workers in the country that corpses are still floating in the waters of the hard-hit Irrawaddy Delta.

With cameras from the state-controlled media recording every moment of Ban's tour, the natural question was: Are the generals using Ban to bolster their own legitimacy?

In his interview with ABC News, Ban rejected the notion. He said he'd seen some of the devastation the cyclone wrought from the window of the chopper as it flew over the delta area.

He added that during a meeting earlier in the day, he'd argued strenuously to Myanmar's prime minister that the Myanmar government alone could not handle this relief effort. Ban said he thought his message had been heard and that, contrary to the regime's insistence that the relief effort is over, it "at least, may have to go another six or seven months."

Whether it will be heeded is another question entirely. Tonight, a U.N. official told ABC News that the junta might use the secretary general to boost its own legitimacy, but that's a risk worth taking to reach the millions of people who risk sickness and starvation.