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Myanmar : No progress in talks, ICRC closes offices

ICC Note: The closing of the International Committee of the Red Cross’s offices underscore the extreme human rights violations going on in Burma, much of them targeted at Chrisitans.

3/15/07 Burma (ICRC) – “The ICRC’s humanitarian work in Myanmar has now reached near-paralysis,” the organization’s director of operations has said. Speaking in Geneva , Pierre Krähenbühl explained that staff were still unable to resume visits to detainees anywhere in the country or to conduct independent field operations in sensitive border areas. “A recent meeting with the Ministry of Home Affairs made no headway,” he added.

Despite sustained effort by the International Committee of the Red Cross to overcome differences that have surfaced over many months, the Ministry has maintained its drastic restrictions on the organization. Those restrictions are jeopardizing the ICRC’s ability to discharge its internationally recognized mandate since they are incompatible with its independent and neutral approach to assessing the need for humanitarian action and to assisting vulnerable people. The ICRC has therefore decided to close two of its offices, one in Mawlamyine ( Mon State ) and the other in Kyaing Tong ( East Shan State ). It is carefully considering whether to keep open its remaining field offices.

“Living and security conditions for civilians in sensitive border areas remain a real concern for the ICRC,” Mr Krähenbühl said. “There are also strong indications of a deterioration in conditions of detention and treatment at several places of detention.”

Over the past two years, the ICRC has regularly raised issues of urgent humanitarian concern with the Government of Myanmar both orally and in writing, insisting both on measures to improve the situation and on being able to effectively and freely carry out its activities. However, with no tangible response from the authorities and with the restrictions that have been imposed on the ICRC, the organization’s core humanitarian activities are now at stake.

The ICRC deplores the failure of its efforts to rekindle a meaningful humanitarian dialogue with the Ministry of Home Affairs. The ICRC remains open to high-level discussions with the Myanmar authorities to break the persisting deadlock and stands ready to act immediately to address the most pressing humanitarian issues provided that it may operate independently and with regular and direct access to persons in need.

The ICRC opened an office in Yangon and started a limb-fitting and rehabilitation project in 1986. Since 1999 it has carried out assistance and protection work in places of detention and in sensitive border areas. Over the past year, the ICRC has reduced the number of its expatriate staff from 56 to 16 because of the restrictions imposed by the Government of Myanmar.