Myanmar orders Doctors Without Borders to cease operations
Doctors Without Borders has been ordered to cease activities in Myanmar, leaving tens of thousands of patients without medical care, the Nobel Prize-winning aid group said Friday.
Doctors Without Borders did not give a reason for the move. But local news reports said the government had taken issue with statements made by the group about sectarian violence in northern Rakhine state and accused it of bias toward the ethnic Rohingya Muslim minority.
In a statement, Doctors Without Borders said it was “deeply shocked” by the suspension of its operations after 22 years in Myanmar and “extremely concerned about the fate” of patients under its care around the country.
The group said it was forced to close clinics that provide life-saving treatment to 30,000 HIV/AIDS patients and more than 3,000 tuberculosis patients. It also has been providing primary care to tens of thousands of people living in camps after being displaced by the violence in Rakhine.
The decision came after Doctors Without Borders said it had treated 22 Rohingya Muslims following an attack last month in Du Chee Yar Tan.
The United Nations reported that at least 40 Rohingya Muslims may have been killed in the incident, which it was told took place the same evening that a policeman was captured and killed. The government denied that a massacre was carried out by state security forces and ethnic Rakhine Buddhists.
Despite reform efforts since military rule ended in 2011, journalists are barred from large parts of Rakhine, and humanitarian aid agencies also have limited access, making it difficult to confirm details of the violence that has afflicted the area.
A leaked government memo said Doctors Without Borders’ public comments amounted to “incitement to break the state’s security, rule of law, law and order and peace,” the state-run Myanmar Times reported. The organization was “seeking to create … conflicts there, bias on race and person,” the memo reportedly read.
Presidential spokesman Ye Htut also criticized the group in the Myanmar Freedom newspaper for lack of transparency in its work and for hiring “Bengalis,” the term used by the government for Rohingya Muslims, the Associated Press reported.
Denied citizenship in Myanmar and required to obtain the government’s permission to marry, the Rohingya are considered by the United Nations to be one of the world’s most mistreated minorities.
If confirmed, last month’s attack would bring to about 280 the number of Rohingya killed since sectarian violence flared two years ago in Rakhine.
Doctors Without Borders, also known by its French name, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), said it was in discussions with the government about resuming operations across the country.
“In MSF’s 22 years of presence in Myanmar, MSF has proven that it delivers health care to people based solely on need, irrespective of race, religion, gender, HIV status or political affiliation,” the group said.
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