The International Committee of the Red Cross says its work in Burma is under threat because of the military government's restrictions on its operations. The ICRC has closed two offices and is calling for high-level talks with the military to prevent further closures and cuts in its humanitarian efforts. From Bangkok, Ron Corben files this report.
The International Committee of the Red Cross warns that its humanitarian work in Burma is reaching what it calls "near paralysis." Increasingly, the ICRC is restricted in efforts to conduct independent field operations or visit prisoners in the country.
The group says the restrictions have forced it to close two offices, one in Mon state (Maelamyine) and another in Shan state (Kyaing Tong).
Thierry Ribaux, is the deputy head of the Red Cross mission in Burma, which is also called Myanmar. He says the ICRC hopes to continue working in Burma, although cut backs in staff and services have taken place over the past year.
"We had to dramatically scale down our operations and our staff to reach this level of activity," he explained. " [But] we remain committed to a mandate, we remain determined to stay in Yangon (Rangoon) but now we need a very clear positive signal from the authorities - otherwise we will have to decide on further reductions."
The number of foreign staff has fallen to 16, down from 56, because of the restrictions. Last October, the military in Burma ordered the ICRC to close its offices but in December, reversed that decision. Ribaux says only high-level talks are expected to resolve the situation.
"We are waiting for further talks. We propose these high-level talks between the ICRC and the government of Myanmar," he said. " This could be a way to clarify the situation, but without this very clear signal we would probably have to decide on further reductions."
The ICRC also may have to close three other field operations.
Other international humanitarian groups have faced increasing limits in recent years in Burma. In 2005, the Global Fund against AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria withdrew from the country, hampering efforts to contain all three diseases in the country.
The ICRC has been blocked from meeting political detainees since 2005. From 1999 until 2005, the Red Cross made over 450 visits to examine prison conditions and labor camps in Burma.
ICRC officials also have been prevented from meeting opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who remains under house arrest in Rangoon. Human rights groups say there are more than 1,000 political prisoners in Burma, which has been under military rule since 1962.