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Bangladesh Orders Suspension of Aid to Rohingya Refugees

by VOA News August 02, 2012

Bangladesh is ordering international humanitarian groups to stop providing aid to ethnic Rohingya refugees who have fled deadly communal violence in neighboring Burma.

Local administrator Joynal Bari confirmed Thursday to VOA that the groups Doctors Without Borders, Action Against Hunger and Muslim Aid have been instructed to stop their activities in the southeastern district of Cox's Bazar, which borders Burma.

Bari said the directive came in a letter from Bangladesh's NGO Affairs Bureau, in which the groups were told they were "working beyond their mandate." The local official would not give details, including how many Rohinyga refugees were being helped by the aid agencies.

Diderik Van Halsema, a spokesperson for Doctor's Without Borders [MSF] said his organization has received the directive.

"At MSF we do confirm that we have received a letter from the Bangladeshi authorities requesting us to stop our activities at our project in Cox's Bazar district in Bangladesh," said Van Halsema. "We are currently discussing this matter with the Bangladeshi authorities, so obviously we don't want to influence those conversations and we await the outcome of that."

Muslim Aid UK, told the French news agency that officials ordered them to stop their so-called "illegal" services in the same area because they supposedly were "encouraging an influx of Rohingya refugees" from Burma.

Sectarian violence between Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in Burma's western Rakhine state has left dozens dead since June. Rights groups say Burmese security forces also have carried out a campaign of killings and mass arrests against the Rohingya population.

The Rohingya are considered by most Burmese to be illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, and most are denied citizenship there. But they also are denied citizenship in Bangladesh, where authorities say the group has been living in Burma for centuries.

Despite pressure from the United States and rights groups, Bangladesh has turned away boats carrying scores of Rohingyas who are trying to escape the violence in Burma.

On Wednesday, Human Rights Watch released a report saying that Burmese security forces have committed killings, rape, and mass arrests against Rohingya in the aftermath of the communal violence.

Burma's government, which has a long history of violence against ethnic minorities, has denied that security forces have committed abuses against the Rohingya, saying it has exercised "maximum restraint" in dealing with the conflict.

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