YANGON, Myanmar Donor nations said they were ready to provide Myanmar with more than $100 million to help it recover from Cyclone Nargis but warned the ruling junta Sunday they will not fully open their wallets until they are provided access to the hardest-hit areas.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, speaking to The Associated Press after a one-day meeting of 51 donor nations, said he believed a turning point had been reached in getting Myanmar's isolationist junta to allow foreign aid workers unhindered entry into the devastated Irrawaddy delta.
"I'm cautiously optimistic that this could be a turning point for Myanmar to be more flexible, more practical, and face the reality as it is on the ground," Ban told the AP.
But Myanmar's leaders and potential donors continued to take a guarded tone.
Myanmar's prime minister, Lt. Gen. Thein Sein, said international aid "with no strings attached" was welcome. But he hedged on the sensitive issue of direct access, saying only civilian vessels could take part in the aid operation, and they would have to go through Yangon.
"Relief supplies can be transported by land, air or sea," he said. "But if relief supplies have to be transported by water, civilian vessels can come in through Yangon port."
That seemed to nix plans for U.S., British and French warships loaded with humanitarian supplies to join in the relief operation. The ships have been off Myanmar's coast for more than a week.
France said Sunday it would unload the 1,000 tons of aid on its ship, the Mistral, in Phuket, Thailand. The aid, which amounts to 30 planeloads of supplies, would then be taken to Myanmar by the World Food Program and distributed by non-governmental organizations.
The French government said it is "particularly shocked" by the refusal to accept the aid directly, but believes in the "responsibility to protect" the needy.
Myanmar's leaders have virtually barred foreign aid workers and international agencies from the delta because they fear a large influx of foreigners could lead to political interference in their internal affairs.
The junta is also hesitant to have its people see aid arriving directly from countries like the United States, which it has long treated as a hostile power seeking to invade or colonize the country.