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Amid aid delays, locals in Burma (Myanmar) rebuild

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"We were told it would take 48 hours advance notice for clearance. Now we're finding out it's taking 72," he adds.

About 45 UN visa requests have been approved since General Shwe promised last week to allow in "all" legitimate foreign aid workers.

"We haven't been able to get the whole mechanism going. Progress has been slow," Hakan Tongul, deputy director in Burma of the UN's World Food Program, told Reuters.

Burmese leaders rejected criticism of its handling of aid efforts Sunday, after US Defense Secretary Robert Gates accused the generals ruling the country of "criminal neglect."

Burma's deputy defense minister, Aye Myint, in Singapore for a security conference also attended by Mr. Gates, insisted that the government had acted swiftly and was open to foreign aid with "no strings attached." "Through the prompt and immediate supervision of the supervisory central body headed by the prime minister and member ministers, relief camps and hospitals were opened, debris was cleared, emergency power and water supply restored," Mr. Myint said.

Along with Burmese staff and an Indonesian, Mr. Goudswaard took a boat for six hours toward Ngapadaw in the southwest delta, then a smaller boat for two hours to the outer edge allowed by his permit. Beyond lay remote areas where it's not known if anyone has survived, or been reached.

His crew stopped at an expanse of muddy water – what used to be the village of Aut Pyun, home to 127 families. Winds were so strong that they cracked open concrete beams and pulverized brick walls of a school. Only 300 people, about half the population, survived.

Expecting to find people stunned and depressed, he was surprised to see locals rebuilding their homes with the help of organized Burmese relief volunteers and the leadership of monks. "They've bounced back very quickly.... The shock of losing their families is etched in their faces. But they're also taking the initiative to help themselves," he says.

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