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Myanmar backtracks on aid group expulsion

Government announcement comes one day after Doctors Without Borders said it had been told to leave country.

Last updated: 02 Mar 2014 09:16
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Myanmar government accused MSF of being impartial and lacking transparency [EPA].

A day after Doctors Without Borders announced its expulsion from Myanmar, the government has backpedaled, saying the aid group will be allowed to resume operations everywhere but Rakhine, a state plagued by bouts of sectarian violence.

The Nobel Peace Prize-winning group, known by its French acronym MSF, said in a statement that it had been allowed to resume work in Kashin and Shan states, as well as the Yangon 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 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."

The group has been giving care in Rakhine state to both ethnic Rakhine 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 Rakhine Buddhist civilians in a restricted area of the state in January.

Myanmar'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.

Negotiations continue

Myanmar, a predominantly Buddhist nation of 60 million people, has been grappling with sectarian violence since it moved from dictatorship to a nominally civilian government in 2011.

Up to 280 people have been killed and more than 140,000 others forced to flee their homes, most of them Rohingya.

Doctors Without Borders, which provides care across religious, ethnic and racial lines, has come under fire for working on the behalf of the Rohingya.

It was told earlier in the week that its license was being revoked, in part because it was hiring "Bengalis," the name Myanmar's government uses to refer to Rohingya. The group also was accused of being impartial and lacking transparency.

Ye Htut said negotiations were continuing between the Ministry of Health and Doctors Without Borders about the aid agency's work in Rakhine.

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