Myanmar to Allow Aid Groups to Help Hard-Hit Areas

When the U.N. secretary general came here to see the dictator today, U.N. officials weren't expecting significant progress. This was understandable, given that Myanmar's Senior General Than Shwe, a specialist in psychological warfare who's accused of large-scale human rights violations, is a man who, until recently, wouldn't even return Ban Ki-moon's phone calls.

Yet the U.N.'s Ban emerged from the meeting saying the general had finally agreed to let all international aid workers into the areas hit hardest by this month's cyclone.

"He has agreed to allow in all the aid workers, regardless of nationality," Ban said, agreeing that the move seemed like a breakthrough.

Given the unpredictable and sometimes cruel nature of this regime, the United Nations and other aid groups are taking a guardedly optimistic stance.


But Ban said he would take the general at his word. "He meant it in front of many senior generals. He is the leader. He has the authority."

Relief workers, many of whom have been poised to move in for weeks, today said they want practical details of how it will work.

"It's heartening to see the policy and the openness and the language, but there is very little detail at this stage for us to go on and for us to be convinced." said Chris Webster of World Vision.

To cut this deal, Ban had to go to Myanmar's new capital city, a normally off-limits place that typifies the junta's excesses, as well as its paranoia.

While much of the rest of the country lives in backward conditions, here in the capital, called Naypyitaw, there are towering buildings being built, wide and eerily empty boulevards and swank hotels.


Shwe decided, rather abruptly, to move the government to this remote location three years ago, apparently on the advice of his personal astrologer.

Critics say he's trying to protect himself against foreign invaders -- and maybe even his own people.

Today, from his stately perch, the general made a promise that could help millions of his most desperate citizens.

Ban says he'll be watching closely to see whether the promise is kept.