Govt Allows MSF to Reopen Some Clinics, Maintains Ban on Arakan

By Reuters 3 March 2014

BANGKOK — Burma has allowed Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) to resume work in parts of the country, days after it ordered it to close its clinics, but not in the western strife-torn state of Arakan, the medical aid group said.

MSF did not give a reason for Thursday’s suspension but media reported government officials had been angered by the charity’s public comments on Arakan.

The group has been giving care there to both ethnic Arakanese Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims, a mostly stateless minority who live in apartheid-like conditions and who otherwise have little access to health care.

The United Nations and human rights groups say at least 40 Rohingya were killed by security forces and ethnic Arakanese Buddhist civilians in a restricted area of the state in January.

Burma’s government denies that any massacre took place. Government spokesman Ye Htut accused MSF, in comments to media on Friday, of falsely reporting that it had treated victims near the scene of the alleged mass killing.

MSF said in a statement on Saturday it had been allowed to resume work in Kachin and Shan states, as well as the Rangoon region.

“While MSF is encouraged by this and will resume these activities for now, MSF remains extremely concerned about the fate of tens of thousands of vulnerable people in Rakhine [Arakan] state who currently face a humanitarian medical crisis,” it said.

“All MSF services are provided based on medical need only, regardless of ethnicity, religion or any other factor.”

It had to close clinics serving 30,000 HIV/AIDS patients, and more than 3,000 people with tuberculosis were not able to get vital medicine, it had said.

Reports of incidents in Arakan are difficult to verify independently because large parts are off limits to journalists. The government also controls access by international aid groups, despite a wave of democratic reforms since decades of military rule ended in 2011.

Burma’s government has repeatedly rejected reports by MSF, the United Nations and human rights groups that Rohingya villagers in Maungdaw Township were attacked and their homes looted.