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U.N. chief in Myanmar: Let us help

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  • NEW: U.N. chief says he's frustrated by aid agencies' inability to access victims
  • NEW: Prime minister says relief phase over, it's time to start reconstruction
  • Ban Ki-moon met by Foreign Minister, tours cyclone-ravaged areas
  • Ban said Asian nations beginning to focus on reconstruction needs of Myanmar
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YANGON, Myanmar (CNN) -- International aid is needed to help cyclone-ravaged Myanmar because the country is not equipped to handle the devastation, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told Myanmar's prime minister Thursday.

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Ban Ki-moon makes a traditional gesture to a displaced family in the Kyondah village Thursday.

The country's military rulers have been slow to allow foreign aid in the country, and Ban expressed frustration over what he said was "the inability of the aid workers to bring assistance at the right time to the affected areas."

Prime Minister Thein Sein said, however, that he believes the relief phase of the recovery effort was over and it was time to begin reconstruction.

Cyclone Nargis slammed into Myanmar earlier this month, claiming more than 130,000 lives and uprooting more than 2 million people from their homes, according to the United Nations.

Myanmar's leaders prevented foreign agencies from assessing victims' needs after the storm, and insisted any aid be distributed by their soldiers and volunteers -- a demand that violated many aid agencies' policies.

Ban arrived Thursday morning in Yangon and was welcomed by Foreign Minister Nya Win before signing a condolence book for cyclone victims. Later, he stopped at the gilded Shwedagon Pagoda -- a historic landmark, and the country's holiest shrine.

There, he offered flowers to the statue of Buddha and followed local tradition by removing his shoes and socks to walk around the pagoda. Video Watch Ban in Myanmar »

Ban told the pagoda's trustees, "The United Nations and the whole international community stand ready to help you overcome this tragedy."

"That is why I am here. The main purpose of my coming to Myanmar is to demonstrate my solidarity," Ban said. "The United Nations and the whole international community stand ready to help you overcome this tragedy."

He added, "At the same time, I hope your people and government can coordinate the flow of aid so the aid work can be done in a more systematic and organized way."

Ban also offered money to the trustees to pass on to the cyclone victims, the United Nations said.

Ban toured the devastated Irrawaddy Delta in southern Myanmar by helicopter. The coastline of the Andaman Sea was hit especially hard, and aid workers have reported bodies still lining the shore in some spots.

Also on Thursday, U.S. deputy State Department spokesman Tom Casey said William Berger, head of USAID Disaster Assistance Response, arrived in the country to attend a briefing there and to take part in an arranged tour of the delta for foreign diplomats. However, the country still refuses to allow a U.S. assessment team to evaluate conditions, Casey said.

Myanmar, which is also known as Burma, is expected to face a food crisis because the cyclone wiped out crops in the Irrawaddy -- the heartland for rice farming -- and flooded the area with salt water, imperiling future crops.

Thailand has pledged to send rice feed and farming equipment to its neighbor.

Ahead of his arrival in Myanmar, Ban stopped in Bangkok, Thailand, where he said Asian nations are beginning to focus on Myanmar's reconstruction needs. Video Watch trucks of Thai aid roll into Myanmar »

Ban will return to Bangkok to meet Friday evening with Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej. Thailand is the first country that successfully persuaded the junta to allow medical teams into the country.

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The teams are now stationed in the delta city of Myaungmya. CNN news teams said they have seen trucks full of people arriving at refugee shelters there.

Ban said Thai doctors have seen no sign of a health epidemic in Myanmar, despite fears after the cyclone hit early this month.

CNN's Kochakorn J. Olarn contributed to this report.

All About MyanmarNatural DisastersUnited NationsBan Ki-moon

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