Number of dead and missing in Myanmar cyclone raised to 138,000

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Yangon_(dpa) _ A total of 138,373 people were killed or went missing when Cyclone Nargis smashed into Myanmar's central coast last month, a joint assessment of the disaster revealed Tuesday.

The government's previous estimate for the dead and missing was slightly below 134,000, comprising about 78,000 dead and 56,000 missing, most of them drowned or swept away by the tidal waves that accompanied the cyclone.

The May 2-3 cyclone's official death toll now stands at 84,537 with 53,836 missing and about 20,000 injured, Myanmar Deputy Foreign Minister Kyaw Thu said.

Kyaw Thu announced the new estimates at the first meeting in Yangon of an assessment team comprising 250 members from the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), the United Nations and Myanmar government.

Members of the Post-Nargis Joint Assessment team returned to Yangon over the weekend after completing data collection in 30 cyclone-affected townships across Yangon and the Irrawaddy Delta.

The data they gathered is to be used to launch a revised UN humanitarian appeal in July in Geneva.

The team's report was scheduled for release on July 18.

The team was initiated after the ASEAN-UN International Pledging Conference May 25 in Yangon to raise relief and recovery aid for the cyclone's victims.

The initiative, the first such for 10-member ASEAN, was seen as a means of getting around the distrust Myanmar's military junta feels for Western democracies by allowing ASEAN, of which Myanmar is a member, to play an intermediate role and provide a "diplomatic umbrella" in assessing the damage done by the cyclone.

The junta was sharply criticized by the international community for hindering an international disaster relief effort for their own people by restricting imports of necessities and foreign experts skilled in facilitating emergency operations.

The junta's interference has already slowed international contributions to the UN's first "flash appeal" for aid to victims of Cyclone Nargis and is likely to put a damper on more expensive rehabilitation plans that the joint team's assessment is designed to facilitate, aid workers said. dpa ss pj ls

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