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Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), along with other international NGOs, is suspending operations in Arakan state’s Pauktaw township following what it has termed “misunderstandings” that led to tensions with local Arakanese Buddhists.
Michele Trainiti, MSF’s liaison officer for Arakan state, told DVB via his translator that several NGOs have temporarily suspended some of their operations in Pauktaw township following an altercation with local Arakanese Buddhists earlier this month.
“Some organisations have temporarily cut operations in the Pauktaw region due to a misunderstanding among the local public,” said Trainiti. “We can only speak for MSF, but we are working closely with the government and will resume normal operations as soon as the situation gets better. We have currently cut down operations with our [mobile] boat clinic.”
He said that MSF was informed on 2 November that there were four patients with gunshot wounds at a Muslim IDP camp in Pauktaw. The group transported three of them – the ones with serious conditions – to Sittwe hospital. MSF staff were later informed that two Arakanese Buddhists had also been submitted to the hospital with wounds.
“The major misunderstanding is that the Arakanese [Buddhist] public think we were aware of the two Arakanese [Buddhist] patients but decided not to help them,” said Trainiti. “This is not true – as an organisation providing medical assistance, we have never discriminated against a patient; we have never made considerations based on one’s race and religion, but only on their condition.”
Residents of Sittwe later staged a protest in the town accusing MSF of bias against Buddhists. The Arakan state government then summoned several NGOs last week and warned them against the alleged bias.