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Burma Asks Red Cross To Close Field Offices


The International Committee of the Red Cross says the government of Burma has ordered the Swiss humanitarian organization to close its five field offices in the country. The Red Cross says this effectively makes it impossible to carry out most of its assistance and protection work for civilians. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from ICRC headquarters in Geneva.

ICRC spokeswoman Carla Haddad tells VOA the government of Burma, also known as Myanmar, ordered the Red Cross to close its field offices in mid-October.

She said, "We have tried in the past month to re-establish meaningful dialogue with the government of Myanmar, to no avail."

"The last meeting took place on 17 November in Geneva, but until now and since this meeting there is no sign of the deadlock breaking," she added.

Burma's repressive government has faced mounting international criticism of its human rights record and failure to introduce democracy.

Since December 2005, Burma's government has refused to allow the Red Cross to visit prisoners.

The United Nations estimates Burma holds more than 1,000 political prisoners. Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has been under house arrest for more than a decade.

Haddad says the organization held back from making public the order to close the offices until every possibility of a resumption of discussions with the government had been exhausted.

"At this stage, we are facing a difficult situation where the dialogue was completely interrupted," she said.

"And, we do hope there will be a signal from the government of Myanmar indicating a resumption of discussions so that we can carry out our work according to our established procedures applied worldwide," she continued.

The ICRC has been working in Burma since 1986. It provides food, water and sanitation to civilians who live in difficult conditions in border areas. It also provides some medical assistance.

The Red Cross says it has had to drastically scale down activities in recent months because of its increasing inability to do effective work.

Haddad says Burmese authorities have also told the Red Cross that it would not be allowed to resume visits to detainees.

She says those visits were halted in December 2005 because authorities insisted they be conducted with a government field escort present. She says this goes against standard Red Cross procedures that visits with detainees are held in private.

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