WORLD> Asia-Pacific
ASEAN FMs meet in Singapore on aid to Myanmar
Updated: 2008-05-19 12:47

SINGAPORE - Foreign ministers of Southeast Asian nations are meeting here Monday to discuss help for cyclone- hit Myanmar.

A man prepares food at a village hit by Cyclone Nargis, outside Yangon May 18, 2008. [Agencies] 

The meeting comes more than two weeks after a deadly tropical cyclone Nargis hit five divisions and states of Myanmar early this month and left more than 77,000 dead, 55,000 still missing and 19, 000 injured.

Singapore, the current chair of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), offered the special meeting to discuss "the humanitarian situation in Myanmar and consider how best to assist Myanmar in its relief and recovery efforts."

The grouping, which has a long-standing policy of not interfering in the internal affairs of member states, is facing the blame that it has been moving too slow to respond.

Members Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines were quick with their individual dispatches of relief supplies and monetary aid in the first days after the disaster.

The Myanmar government has accepted relief goods from foreign countries but refused to allow foreign relief workers to distribute them.  

In contrast with more aggressive calls by Western nations for Myanmar to open its doors to foreign aid workers, ASEAN is likely to attempt a compromise to speed up aid delivery and spur reconstruction, observers said.

Singapore Foreign Minister George Yeo has said that countries which want to help others struck by disasters must respect their autonomy.

"We must respect the autonomy of countries and accept the fact that they know local situations better than foreign people ever can," he told reporters on Saturday at the end of a visit to China.

He has played down expectations ahead of the Monday meeting, saying "I don't think the outcome will be a dramatic one because they have been quite clear about their policy that the rescue effort will be principally their own."

Myanmar's Foreign Minister Nyan Win is attending the meeting and is excepted to introduce the relief situation in his country.

Thai Foreign Minister Noppadon Pattama has said he and his fellow ministers would discuss forming a mechanism within ASEAN to help member nations suffering from similar disasters in the future.