urges Myanmar to allow it to resume work as health crisis worsens
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[August 15, 2014]
By Paul Mooney
YANGON (Reuters) - An international medical
group has urged the Myanmar government to follow through on a commitment
to let it resume work in one of the poorest parts of the country,
warning that healthcare there has seriously deteriorated since it was
The government ordered the group Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) out
of the western state of Rakhine in February after the group said it
had treated people it believed were victims of sectarian violence.
The government denied that an attack had taken place and it has also
accused MSF of being biased in favor of members of the minority
The withdrawal of the agency, which had operated in the area for
more than 20 years, left some half-a-million Rohingya Muslims
without access to reliable medical care.
"What has become clearer since the expulsion is that the situation
has gotten more grievous by the day," said Reshma Adatia,
operational adviser to MSF-Holland on Myanmar.
The government announced on July 23 that MSF would be allowed to
return to Rakhine state. However, MSF says it has had no official
word from the government since the announcement was made.
Adatia said the decision to allow MSF to resume work "has not been
translated into how and when we can return to the Rakhine State and
conduct our medical activities".
Rakhine State has a long history of discrimination against the
Muslim Rohingya community. Aid groups have drawn the ire of some
Rakhine Buddhists who accuse them of favoring the Rohingya, a group
that makes up the vast majority of victims of recent outbreaks of
Humanitarian groups reject accusations of bias toward Muslims and
many workers say they have been threatened and intimidated.
A spokesman for Rakhine State, Win Myaing, denied any knowledge of a
decision to let MSF resume work there.
Than Tun, a Buddhist leader and a member of an Emergency
Coordination Committee set up in March to monitor the work of
international aid groups, said the decision was not supported by the
people of Rakhine state.
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Some aid workers say the announcement that MSF would be allowed to
resume its work had more to do with politics than resolving the
The announcement came as Yanghee Lee, the new U.N. human rights
envoy to Myanmar, visited the country, including the Rakhine area.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry attended a regional conference in
the capital, Naypyitaw, on Aug. 9-10.
The Myanmar government is in a tight spot. Concessions toward the
Rohingyas could prove unpopular among the general public, but
perceived ill-treatment risks angering Western countries that have
eased sanctions in response to human rights reforms.
On July 26, Zaw Htay, head of the president's office, posted a photo
on his social media feeds showing a previous protest against MSF,
and warned that people in Rakhine State were organizing to strike
against the regional government for inviting MSF to return.
(Editing by Robert Birsel)
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