Myanmar: MSF 'encouraged' by Rakhine return talk

Medical charity had been expelled from west of the country for alleged bias in favor of Rakhine state’s Rohingya Muslims.

Myanmar: MSF 'encouraged' by Rakhine return talk

World Bulletin / News Desk

Medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres says it has had “encouraging dialogue” with Myanmar’s government after being expelled from the west of the country last month, accused of bias in favor of Rakhine State’s Rohingya Muslim population.

The charity’s international president, Joanne Liu, spent last week in Myanmar negotiating with ministers, and took part in a high-level tour of the country’s western Rakhine.

Liu said she had had “productive conversations” with authorities about the possibility of returning to the state, but added that “many medical needs remain untreated.”

MSF had warned that a "medical humanitarian crisis" was looming as a result of the expulsion.

When approached Tuesday the charity declined to give further comment about the negotiations.

MSF was ordered to suspend its operations in the state at the end of February, the government initially demanding the group leave the entire country, but quickly backpedalling.

The expulsion followed sustained protests in Rakhine by Buddhist nationalists, who accused the charity of bias towards the local Rohingya Muslim minority. The national government has echoed the protesters’ accusations.

Rakhine state has witnessed the worst of the ethnic violence between Buddhists and Muslims that has erupted across Myanmar since mid-2012.

Animosity against MSF intensified in January after the charity said it had treated 22 people wounded near the site of an alleged massacre of 48 Rohingya.

The government has angrily denied any "massacre" took place, while barring journalists and aid agencies from the area of the alleged killings.

MSF’s announcement added weight to “credible evidence” from the UN that security forces and Buddhist villagers had rampaged through Du Chee Yar Tan, near the Bangladeshi border, killing men, women and children.

The group’s services covered a population of 700,000 people before its suspension. Last year it provided 2,900 emergency referrals, all of which it says were life saving.

Many in Rakhine live in remote areas with limited access to hospitals. The problem is worse still for Rohingya Muslims, who are denied freedom of movement and often have to pay bribes to checkpoint guards to leave certain areas.

The charity estimates that 25,000 people, including 5,300 children under the age of five, have missed out on consultations since it was expelled three weeks ago. It also estimates that 223 have missed emergency referrals.

It is unclear exactly how many have died as a result of MSF’s suspension.

Rakhine’s state government has claimed it is able to fill the gap left by MSF, but during a recent visit to the state capital Sittwe, the Anadolu Agency found crowded, understaffed government clinics short of basic medication.

Liu said that more than 100 MSF medical staff had left the state and all of the group’s clinics remain closed.

“While the Ministry of Health has taken positive steps to try and fill the enormous gap created by the suspension, to replace a program of this size and in this context is a considerable challenge,” she added.

Earlier this month, a rights group postponed a campaign to reinstate MSF’s services because it said it had learned of “encouraging developments” in the negotiations.

Tom Andrews, a former US congressman and president of United to End Genocide, was in Myanmar at the time of the expulsion and visited camps on the outskirts of Sittwe.

Last Mod: 25 Mart 2014, 09:56
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