2 March 2014

An anti-MSF protest in Sittwe (AFP).

Embattled aid agency Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) will be allowed to resume its activities outside of Arakan State on Monday, 3 March, but its programmes in the restive region will remain suspended following an order from the government to cease operations, issued on February 27th.

MSF was forced to shut down clinics across the country on the 28th, but HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and other treatment centres in Kachin State, Shan State, and Rangoon Division will re-open on Monday. MSF Holland’s operations in northern Arakan, which provide front-line health care to tens of thousands of individuals, will not resume.

Operating in Burma for the past 22 years, MSF currently provides anti-retroviral treatment to roughly 30,000 HIV/AIDS patients in the country, as well as some 3,000 tuberculosis patients, often in areas where no other treatment is available.

MSF was widely accused of unduly favouring Rohingya communities at the expense of ethnic Arakanese Buddhists in northern Arakan State, but this allegation has been refuted by the organisation, which claims its “actions are guided by medical ethics and the principles of neutrality and impartiality.”

The agency’s memorandum of understanding with the Ministry of Health expired in January 2013, but its activities in Arakan were allowed to continue until last week. Last month, MSF staff members reported treating “22 patients for violence-related injuries” in Duchira Dan [Du Char Yar Tan] village, near Maungdaw, supporting allegations that a massacre of Rohingya people occurred there. The allegations were quickly and vehemently denied by the government.

A commission of inquiry, led by the Myanmar Human Rights commission, asserted the massacre did not occur. MSF stood by its initial report.

The organisation was subsequently chastised by Ye Htut, deputy information minister and presidential spokesman, who told DVB last week that the government had “made the decision not to extend MSF’s MoU,” on the grounds that MSF’s activities were “fuelling tensions and are detrimental to the rule of law” in the area. The fact that MSF hired Rohingya as local staff, which the government refers to as “Bengalis,” was also cited as grounds for the revocation of their permission to operate.

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