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MSF signs new agreement with govt, eyes Rakhine return

By Tim McLaughlin
September 9, 2014

AID group Médecins Sans Frontières-Holland has signed a new memorandum of understanding with the Ministry of Health, a step the group says it hopes will speed up its efforts to begin working again in Rakhine State.

“MSF is committed to fully develop this agreement and stands ready in cooperation with the MoH [Ministry of Health] to resume operations in Rakhine at any time,” the group said in a September 9 statement.

“We hope this measure translates into an early resumption of our activities in Rakhine and provides the opportunity to engage with the communities on the ground.”

MSF was invited to return to the state in late July, five months after it was abruptly forced to shutter its operations there.

An announcement from the Rakhine State government and a Myanmar News Agency article based on a Ministry of Health report, both published in the July 24 edition of the New Light of Myanmar, said the group would be allowed to resume operations in the western state.

But the announcement provided few details on when MSF could return or what it would be allowed to do, and MSF has yet to resume operations in Rakhine.

U Aye Nyein, the head of Rakhine State's Health Department, told The Myanmar Times in August that Nay Pyi Taw had not issued any instructions to allow MSF to resume operations. He said that this would likely only occur after a new MOU was signed.

In the July announcement the Rakhine State government invited UN agencies and INGOs, including MSF “to participate in development, humanitarian, education and healthcare programs in accordance with the wishes of the Rakhine people”. It was published shortly before the arrival of US Secretary of State John Kerry and during a visit by the UN special rapporteur for human rights in Myanmar Yanghee Lee.

The invitation was made in order to implement the Rakhine Action Plan, which was developed following meetings on June 26-27 with members of the Emergency Coordination Centre (ECC), UN officials, civil society representatives and officials from the Myanmar Peace Centre, it said.

The government ordered the Nobel Prize-winning organisation to leave Rakhine State in late February amid accusations it was biased in favour of the state’s Muslim population. A month later, all INGOs pulled out of the state after their offices were targeted by Rakhine extremists. All were later allowed to return but the state government said it would not allow MSF to resume its activities in Rakhine.

Prior to its eviction from the state, MSF had angered the government and Buddhist Rakhine residents by reporting that it had treated 22 Rohingya Muslims following an outbreak of violence in Maungdaw township in January. The UN has said that it believes at least 40 people were killed during the fighting but the government has denied that there were any serious casualties.

During ASEAN meetings in Nay Pyi Taw last month, Minister for Information U Ye Htut, a spokesperson for the President’s Office, said MSF had made some “mistakes in the past”, including failing to be transparent about its activities, and it was the responsibility of MSF to “find a solution to run their operation smoothly in Rakhine State".

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