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Myanmar steps up pressure against aid agencies

india Updated: Dec 09, 2006 18:08 IST
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Myanmar is hampering humanitarian efforts by tightening restrictions on international aid agencies, further putting at risk the country's impoverished population, the International Crisis Group said.

The military-run nation is becoming increasingly aggressive and intrusive towards global aid agencies in a bid to control their activities, the independent organisation said in a report released on Friday.

Apart from the junta's pressure, overseas pro-democracy groups were also stepping up efforts to restrict and micro-manage humanitarian aid flows, it said.

"Aid agencies have come under renewed pressure from both the military government and pro-democracy activists overseas who seek to curtail or control assistance programs," Robert Templer, the director of the group's Asian program, said in the report.

The United Nations estimates Myanmar has some 1,100 political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi, the 61-year-old Nobel peace laureate, who has been under house arrest in Yangon for most of the past 17 years.

"Undermining of aid by protagonists on all sides not only goes against international humanitarian principles but could also rekindle a new cycle of conflict, making any prospect of positive political change even more remote," he said.

The junta recently ordered the International Committee of the Red Cross to shut down all of its five field offices outside Yangon and rejected the agency's repeated calls for the resumption of prison visits.

In August, the UN-initiated Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria withdrew from Myanmar due to the junta's restrictions on relief efforts.

But a group of European-led donors set up a new fund to fight deadly diseases in Myanmar, which has a population of 54 million. The 100 million dollar Three Diseases Fund began its operations in October.

The impoverished Southeast Asian country has one of the world's highest rates of tuberculosis, with 97,000 new cases detected each year, while malaria is the nation's leading cause of illness and death.

The World Health Organization has ranked Myanmar's healthcare system as the world's second worst after Sierra Leone.

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