The international aid group Doctors Without Borders says it has been ordered to halt all operations in Burma following a controversy involving Rohingya Muslims.
The group, known by its French acronym MSF, said in a statement Thursday that it is "deeply shocked" by the decision and extremely concerned about the fate of tens of thousands of patients currently under its care. The group said its offices were closed for the first time ever in areas across Burma, with patients unable to receive life-saving medicines and treatments.
Burmese authorities say the order to halt operations only applies to western Rakhine state, home to Muslim minorities including the stateless Rohingya.
In an interview with VOA's Burmese service, a government spokesman said the group has been asked to cease operations until it can negotiate a agreement with the Burmese government.
"The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between Burmese Government and MSF has been expired since January 2013. We are in the process of signing new MoU. Until we sign the new MoU, the Rakhine government asked MSF to stop its operation in the state."
Earlier, he criticized the group for saying that more than 40 Rohingya were killed in an attack in the remote northern part of the state last month. The government insists that only one Buddhist policeman died.
The government refuses to officially recognize the Rohingya Muslim minority. It says members of any officially-recognized minority must be able to prove their ancestors lived in Burma before the British invaded Rakhine in 1823.
Many of Burma's hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims say their ancestors have lived in Burma for generations. But the impoverished minority group lacks the documentation to prove it.
(This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Burmese service.)