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March 30, 2017

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Taiwan religious leader says Myanmar moving food to cyclone survivors without delay

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- A Taiwanese Buddhist leader said Friday that Myanmar was promptly dispatching food and medical materials to cyclone survivors even though the reclusive country has been slow to let foreign aid workers in.

Master Hsin Tao made the comments as he returned from a trip to Yangon to assess the destruction from Cyclone Nargis.

He led a team of 10 Taiwanese aid workers to Myanmar this week and dispatched 6 tons of food to cyclone survivors.

Myanmar, also known as Burma, has come in for heavy criticism from the international community for failing to take full advantage of food and other aid it has been offered.

On Friday, spokesman Paul Risley of the World Food Program said "the frustration caused by what appears to be a paperwork delay is unprecedented in modern humanitarian relief efforts."

But Hsin Tao said Myanmar's military rulers have mobilized soldiers and civilians to transport aid materials by ships or helicopters to the cyclone victims spread out along the country's west coast.

The materials include those sent in by foreign countries, he said.

"They rejected international aid workers out of distrust of the foreigners," he said. "They try to handle the relief work by themselves as much as possible because they don't have the time to deal with external criticism."

"Foreigners may not be able to conduct effective relief work because the villages are in remote areas and many bridges were swept away in the flood," he added.

The cyclone slammed into Myanmar's west coast last Saturday, killing at least 22,000 people, according to government figures.

For more than a decade, the Ling Jiou Mountain Buddhist Society headed by Hsin Tao has conducted charity work in Myanmar and provided financial support to its temples.

The Myanmar-born Taiwanese monk said his group plans to send in another relief team after discussing with Yangon authorities about how best to meet their needs.

"They need food, water, medical supplies and medical experts to prevent the spread of epidemics as well as building materials," he said.

"They trust us as their friends, so this may not be a problem," he said.

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