You are on page 1of 5

O 171028Z JAN 06 FM AMEMBASSY RANGOON TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 3929 C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 RANGOON 000056 SUBJECT: REGIME POSES OBSTACLES

TO ICRC PRISON ACCESS Classified By: P/E Chief W. Patrick Murphy for Reasons 1.4 (b,d) 1. (C) Summary: The GOB has imposed new restrictions, including the meddling of regimecontrolled organizations, that hamper the ability of ICRC to access and inspect the country's vast gulag of prison detention facilities and labor camps. These restrictions "have slowed down considerably the frequency and efficiency" of ICRC prison visits and jeopardize the organization's overall detainee program. ICRC officials, however, are "cautiously optimistic" that ongoing negotiations with the GOB will succeed in removing these obstacles and they do not want us to intervene on their behalf at this time. End Summary. 2. (C) On January 13 P/E Chief and visiting USAID/Bangkok officers met with outgoing ICRC deputy head of delegation Samuel Bon (STRICTLY PROTECT) to discuss his organization's programs in Burma. According to Bon, over the past four months

the Government of Burma (GOB) has seriously hampered ICRC's most important activities in this country, those related to access to, and inspections of, the regime's vast gulag of prison detention facilities and labor camps. ----------------------Make Way for the GONGOs ----------------------3. (C) Bon said that in recent months the Ministry of Home Affairs requested that ICRC cooperate more closely with several GOB entities and governmentcontrolled NGOs (GONGOs). ICRC readily complied in the case of the GOB's Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Home Affairs' "Correctional Department" (Prisons), and the Myanmar Red Cross. Bon said that ICRC already cooperated with these organizations and was keen to integrate them into prison-related activities in order to improve overall standards at detention facilities. 4. (C) ICRC, however, has serious reservations about cooperating with more politically motivated GONGOs, namely the Myanmar Maternal and Child Welfare Association (MMCWA) and Myanmar Women's Affairs Federation (MWAF). The wives of senior regime officials manage these two organizations, and the GOB has significant influence over their activities. Both GONGOs operate prisoner welfare programs, however, and ICRC is willing to train MMCWA and MWAF workers as long it does not take place inside prison facilities and does not impinge upon ICRC's confidential and private access to prisoners. 5. (C) In the case of Burma's most notorious

GONGO, the mass-member Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), ICRC has emphatically refused to cooperate in any way or bow to pressure to accommodate USDA interference in ICRC programs. Bon said that the Ministry of Home Affairs gave ICRC assurances that the GOB would not require cooperation with the USDA, but in some areas of the country local USDA officials have insisted that they accompany ICRC staff on prison visits. In November, for example, Bon said USDA officials demanded that they join ICRC on a visit to Tharawaddy prison (two hours north of Rangoon). ICRC declined and cut short their inspection of the facility. --------------------------Overall Program in Jeopardy --------------------------6. (C) Bon said that the GOB has also restricted ICRC from access to "certain categories" of prisoners and detainees (Note: Bon did not elaborate or identify which categories, but ICRC's overall agreement with the GOB provides for access to all "detainees of concern," including "security detainees"--political prisoners, individuals under house arrest, and insurgents; as well as religious figures, at-risk detainees such as women and youth, foreigners, etc. End Note.) 7. (C) The GOB's new restrictions, said Bon, coupled with ICRC's ongoing problems with the USDA, "have slowed down considerably the frequency and efficiency" of ICRC visits to detention facilities. He added that the GOB now prohibits the ICRC, which also works with landmine victims, from operating in some border areas in eastern and southern Shan

State. As a result, ICRC has reduced its overall expatriate staff in Burma (to less than 50 fulltime employees) and cut its 2006 budget from $14 million to under $12 million. 8. (C) According to Bon, if the GOB-related restrictions persist for another month or two, ICRC's entire detainee program could be in jeopardy. He emphasized, however, that negotiations with the GOB are active and he requested that the USG treat ICRC information on the latest restrictions as strictly confidential. "We are cautiously optimistic that we can get back on track," he said, "and we do not want to negotiate with the GOB through the press or other avenues." --------------------------------------------Comment: One Organization That Won't Give Up Easily --------------------------------------------9. (C) ICRC's experience is not unique. Since the October 2004 ouster of former PM Khin Nyunt, the GOB has imposed a variety of restrictions on many UN agencies and international NGOs. Some INGOs, particularly those which have weathered such onerous treatment in the past, have found ways to survive. Other INGOs, however, have lost their patience. MSF-France, for example, recently notified the GOB that, as a result of restricted access to its malaria project sites, it will depart Burma in February. ICRC is the only independent organization that has access to the country's 3,000-plus "detainees of concern" (including over 1,100 political prisoners) and has a much deeper investment in Burma, having undertaken arduous

efforts as early as the 1980s to penetrate the prison gulag. We don't expect the organization will give up easily. VILLAROSA (Edited and reading.) reformatted by Andres for ease of