updated 5/9/2008 2:59:05 PM ET 2008-05-09T18:59:05

The Myanmar junta's refusal to let in foreign aid workers has not stopped donors — from billionaire Bill Gates to a small British travel company — from trying to help.

The aid includes a luxury river cruise liner loaned to a charity for transporting relief material and 25,000 shoes sent by a U.S.-based group for the survivors of Saturday's devastating cyclone.

But very little of the international aid is getting down to the victims. Visa restrictions on aid workers have held up delivery. The U.N. has managed to bring in only one planeload while two more shipments were confiscated by the government Friday.

The Gates Foundation donated $3 million for emergency relief efforts in Myanmar, and will provide software to help reunite family members separated in the cyclone, Gates told The Associated Press on Friday.

The funds were transferred to the aid agencies Mercy Corps, Worldvision and Care "so they can go in there and help as quickly as possible," he said.

Gates' donation is nearly as much as the total pledged by the U.S. government — $3.25 million. Myanmar's military government has refused to allow U.S. relief planes to fly in. It also refuses to give visas to U.N. experts who want to assess the damage and manage logistics.

As of Thursday, the U.N. had recorded donations to Myanmar relief totaling $25 million from 28 nations, the European Union and charities. An additional $25 million has been pledged by donors.

The figure jumped Friday with the Gates Foundation's pledge and another $10 million that Japan promised to give through international organizations such as the United Nations Children's Fund, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the World Food Program.

Irrawaddy Flotilla Company, a British company that operates river cruises on the Irrawaddy river in Myanmar, said it was handing over one of its luxury liners to British charity Merlin.

"I think we all feel that this is a country that has touched us in some way," said Paul Strachan, the owner of the ship. "Now we can repay the (Myanmar people) for all the warm hospitality and enriching experiences we have in the past enjoyed there."

The company said the large dining room of Pandaw IV will be converted to a clinic and existing cabins used to accommodate the relief team. A number of Myanmar doctors have volunteered to help out on the ship.

The boat will carry supplies from the riverside town of Henzada, which is also close to an airport that can receive airlifted supplies, Strachan said.

Another boat, Pandaw II, is currently in Mandalay undergoing engine repairs and "as soon as we can move her she will relocate down to the delta," he said.

Soles4Souls, an international charity based in Nashville, Tennessee, announced it had sent 25,000 pairs of shoes to the cyclone victims, but the shipment was stopped pending approval by Myanmar authorities.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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