RANGOON — The Myanmar Red Cross Society (MRCS) has asked state and divisional governments not to assign its members to Burma Army units and allow the organization to focus on its core humanitarian work, as the organization seeks to end its historically close relationship with the military.
The request comes on the heels of the Feb. 17 attack on a Red Cross convoy evacuating war refugees from Laukkai in northern Shan State, during ongoing clashes between the Burma Army and Kokang rebels.
“The public will no longer see Red Cross members visiting houses at night to check if there are overnight guests staying without permission,” said MCRS chairman Dr Tha Hla Shwe. “We have asked that Red Cross members are not assigned to surprise vehicle inspections and security roles.”
The MCRS has also decided not to participate in the Mar. 27 Armed Forces Day parade.
“We should no longer take part in Armed Forces Day since we are an auxiliary force for humanitarian work,” Tha Hla Shwe said. “We will no longer join the parade, starting from this year.”
Red Cross units were incorporated into the military in 1996, as part of a broader revision of combat strategy initiated by the former ruling junta. In 2006, Tha Hla Shwe became the first civilian leader of the MRCS in decades.
“The Red Cross spirit is helping those in danger and vulnerable people, in good faith and without expecting anything return from them,” Htay Htay Yi, the platoon commander of the Kyauktada Township Red Cross told The Irrawaddy. “Though we are sometimes misunderstood as being an auxiliary force of the government, we stick to Red Cross principles whenever we do anything,”
Until this year, the Red Cross took part in the Armed Forces Day parade along with family members of soldiers, policemen, retired veterans, militia groups and firefighters.