Prevented From Working, the French Section of MSF Leaves Myanmar (Burma)

Valérie Batselaere/MSF
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A patient is treated in a mobile clinic in Myanmar. Photo © Laurence Hugues/MSF

Paris, March 30, 2006 – After four years in Myanmar (Burma), the French section of Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has closed its medical programs and left the country. The programs were situated in Mon and Karen states, a region bordering Thailand and caught in an armed conflict between the Burmese military government and rebel groups. MSF has left because of unacceptable conditions imposed by the authorities on how to provide relief to people living in war-affected areas. The French section of MSF ended its presence in Myanmar on March 26 when the head of mission departed from the country.

In 2001, MSF began medical activities in Mon and Karen states, focusing mainly on malaria treatment. Malaria is one of the main causes of death in the area, where there is poor access to health care. Since 2004, MSF's access to the population became increasingly difficult. By the end of 2005, the military authorities had imposed so many travel restrictions on MSF, and applied such pressure on local health authorities not to cooperate with our teams, that it became impossible for MSF to work in an acceptable manner.

"The Burmese regime wants absolute control over any humanitarian actor present in these politically-sensitive regions," explains Dr. Hervé Isambert, program manager for the French section of MSF in Myanmar. "If we accept the restrictions imposed on us today, we would become nothing more than a technical service provider subject to the political priorities of the junta. It appears that the Burmese authorities do not want anyone to witness the abuses they are committing against their own population."

Faced with this deadlock, the French section of MSF has decided to close its programs and leave the country.

The Dutch and Swiss sections of MSF continue to work in Myanmar. Although they too are facing serious access problems in the regions where they work and are concerned about the future of their projects, for the time being they feel they can remain in the country and provide quality care to their patients without making unacceptable compromises with the authorities.