CAN Senior General Tan Shwe be trusted? According to UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, who spent more than two hours with the top Myanmar general yesterday, he agreed in the presence of several of his most senior officers, “to allow all foreign aid workers regardless of nationalities” to enter the country and go to the areas where expert disaster assistance and relief is so desperately needed. Perhaps the question should be framed this way: Can Senior General Tan Shwe be trusted to ensure that everyone under his command is aware of the undertaking he has given and that it is carried out without bureaucratic delay? If Ban Ki Moon has indeed secured a cast-iron pledge from the Myanmar regime, it is a considerable achievement, although many will still ask why the permission could not have been given immediately after Cyclone Nargis struck.

Perhaps General Shwe wanted the prestige that would come from having the world's most senior representative call on him. The initial reaction of some of the most widely experienced disaster experts who have been waiting in frustration for more than two weeks was uniformly positive to Mr Ban's announcement. They will now wait to see whether the barriers that have blocked their work will disappear. If they do not, within a reasonable time, the United Nations will be justified in considering urgently what form of more direct action should be taken to implement General Shwe's promise.