11/28/2006, 00.00

Myanmar forces Red Cross to close 5 centres

The centres used to deliver humanitarian aid to members of ethnic minorities. Already banned from visiting political prisoners, the agency's work in the country has been terminated by this latest move of the junta.

Yangon (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Burma's military junta has ordered the closure of five Red Cross centres in the country, putting an end to humanitarian work undertaken by the international agency in areas hardest hit by the ethnic conflict. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which has already been banned from visiting political prisoners, says that in the last few months its work has been reduced to a handful of projects helping amputees.

The ICRC said in a statement on its website that assistance programs for civilians in ethnic minority border areas, where low-intensity civil war has dragged on for decades, were "severely hampered then prevented completely". "The ICRC utterly deplores the decision by the Myanmar authorities to close its field offices," said the statement. "It places in jeopardy the accomplishments of the humanitarian work already carried out on behalf of the most vulnerable among the country's population, in particular people held in prison or living in sensitive border areas."

The Geneva-based agency is anyhow seeking to resume "constructive dialogue" with the junta about aid and prison visits but so far, all efforts have proved to be in vain. The last meeting between the ICRC president, Jakob Kellenberger and the Myanmar ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva took place on 17 November. The junta has not made any official comments.

For decades, ex-Burma has been under military dictatorship: dozens of ethnic militias wage war against the central government, which is responsible for human rights violations and the collapse of the economy. The United Nations says the junta detains more than 1,100 political prisoners.

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