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Admiral: U.S. ships off cyclone-stricken Myanmar will leave the area

HONOLULU — The top U.S. military commander in the Pacific said Tuesday that Navy ships off cyclone-stricken Myanmar will soon leave the area.

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5 days ago

The USS Essex and accompanying ships will leave Thursday, local time, for the coast of Thailand to load helicopters and personnel next week, Adm. Timothy Keating said in a news release.

He said the vessels would return if Myanmar's leaders change their minds and request "our full assistance."

Keating made the ships, which were in the region for international exercises, available to help with relief efforts for last month's cyclone. But Myanmar refused to allow more than limited U.S. military aid flights in the country.

Keating says the U.S. made at least 15 attempts to convince Myanmar's leaders to allow ships, helicopters and landing craft to provide additional disaster relief.

"I am both saddened and frustrated to know that we have been in a position to help ease the suffering of hundreds of thousands of people and help mitigate further loss of life, but have been unable to do so because of the unrelenting position of the Burma military junta," Keating said. Myanmar is also known as Burma.

Several aircraft will remain in Thailand to support aid efforts, the admiral said.

The Essex expeditionary strike group includes four ships, 22 medium and heavy lift helicopters, four landing craft, and more than 5,000 U.S. military personnel.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Saturday that Myanmar's obstruction of international efforts to help cyclone victims cost "tens of thousands of lives."

He said Myanmar's rulers "have kept their hands in their pockets" while other countries sought to help cyclone victims.