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Burmese government officials have told DVB that international relief group Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) will not be allowed to extend its contract for operations in the country as a punitive measure for misinforming the international community over incidents in Arakan State’s Duchira Dan last month.
Presidential spokesman and deputy information minister Ye Htut told DVB on Thursday that MSF’s memorandum of understanding (MoU) expired in January 2013 but they had been permitted to continue operations while negotiating an extension.
He said the government has decided not to extend the MoU as the group’s activities were seen as “detrimental to regional stability”, referring to recent incidents in Duchira Dan [also written Du Char Yar Tan], where, he asserted, the MSF had made “unsupported” claims about treating victims with gunshot and knife wounds.
“In the most recent Duchira Dan incident, the MSF not only wrote to the Rakhine State government to claim they had treated 15 victims with gunshot and slash wounds but they also announced this to the international community,” said Ye Htut. “In response, the regional and central governments asked MSF to arrange a meeting between officials and the persons they allegedly treated.”
Earlier this month, DVB reported that the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission had concluded an inquiry into an alleged massacre of more than 40 Rohingya Muslims in Maungdaw’s Duchira Dan-West village, saying it has found no solid evidence of any massacre or incident taking place.
However, in a statement to DVB on 7 February, MSF said that it had treated 22 persons from the Rohingya-populated village, although it could not confirm any fatalities.
“We can confirm that our staff treated 22 patients in the area near Du Char Yar Tan [Duchira Dan] village from a variety of violence-related injuries in the days after 14 January,” said MSF Myanmar Head of Mission Peter-Paul de Groote.
However, Ye Htut claimed on Thursday that MSF were unable to provide any evidence to their claim, apart from saying that their information was based on reports by their local staff.
“Not only did they fail to take responsibility for their statement, the MSF did not retract it after inquiries revealed there were no injuries,” he said.
“We made the decision not to extend MSF’s MoU as we see that their activities, instead of offering assistance in the region, are fuelling tensions and are detrimental to the rule of law.”
Several protests have been staged by Buddhist Arakanese residents in the western Burmese state, demanding that the European relief group and other INGOs be evicted from the region because of their alleged “bias” in favour of the Rohingya minority.
MSF have consistently denied that their aid and assistance is biased, and say they provide all necessary treatment to those in need regardless of race or religion.
Arakan State government information officer Oo Hla Thein said that MSF was informed on Wednesday of the decisions by the Health and Home Affairs ministries not to extend their MoU.
“We have informed MSF of the decisions taken by the union-level ministries – the Ministry of Health is to not extend their MoU; and the Ministry of Home Affairs will not extend their registration under the Law Relating to the Forming of an Organisation (Association Law),” he said.
However, MSF’s De Groote told DVB on Thursday that his group had not been notified of any such decision, and said that the organisation was in discussions with the Ministry of Health “to finalise our MoU”.
Ye Htut said rejecting MSF was a “hard decision” to make, but that the Burmese government has no plan to change their policy on cooperating with international organisations for humanitarian aid in the future.
MSF have been operating in Burma since 1992 under an MoU with the Ministry of Health. The internationally acclaimed group have been providing healthcare in Arakan, Kachin and Shan states, as well as programmes across the country offering antiretroviral treatment to around 30,000 HIV patients.