Medical aid group MSF suspended by Myanmar

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 01 March, 2014, 1:48am
UPDATED : Saturday, 01 March, 2014, 1:48am

Medical aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said yesterday the Myanmar government had ordered it to suspend all its activities in the country, halting vital care to thousands of people.

"MSF is deeply shocked by this unilateral decision and extremely concerned about the fate of tens of thousands of patients currently under our care across the country," the group said.

It added that the move would have a "devastating impact" on its 30,000 HIV/Aids patients and more than 3,000 tuberculosis patients.

"Today for the first time in MSF's history of operations in the country, HIV/Aids clinics in Rakhine, Shan and Kachin states, as well as Yangon division, were closed and patients were unable to receive the treatment they needed," the group said.

Myanmar's presidential spokesman Ye Htut had criticised MSF in the Myanmar Freedom newspaper for hiring "Bengalis", the term the government uses for Rohingya, and lacking transparency in its work.

He also accused the group of misleading the world about an attack last month in the remote northern part of Rakhine.

The United Nations said more than 40 Rohingya may have been killed, but the government has vehemently denied allegations that a Buddhist mob rampaged through a village, killing women and children.

It says one policeman was killed by Rohingya and no other violence occurred.

The US embassy in Yangon issued a statement calling for open aid access.

"The United States encourages Myanmar to continue to work with the international community to provide humanitarian assistance to communities in need and to ensure unfettered access for humanitarian agencies, in accordance with international standards," it said.

MSF said it treated 22 injured and traumatised Rohingya. Myanmar, a predominantly Buddhist nation of 60 million, recently emerged from a half-century of military rule. Since then, ethnic tensions have swept Rakhine state, raising concerns from the US and others that the bloodshed could undermine democratic reforms.

Up to 280 people have been killed and tens of thousands more have fled their homes, most of them Rohingya.

Since the violence erupted in June 2012, MSF has worked in 15 camps for the displaced people in Rakhine state.

For many of the sickest patients, the organisation offers the best and sometimes only care, because travelling outside the camps for treatment in local Buddhist-run hospitals can be dangerous and expensive.

The aid group has worked to help smooth the referral process for emergency transport from some camps.

Due to increasing threats and intimidation from a group of Rakhine Buddhists who have been holding protests against MSF, the organisation has said its activities have been severely hampered and that it has not received enough government support.

Associated Press, Agence France-Presse