BANGKOK (Reuters) - The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria has pulled its funding for programmes in army-ruled Myanmar, blaming travel and other restrictions imposed by the junta, the Fund said on Friday.
The Fund, which agreed in 2004 to spend nearly $100 million over 5 years fighting all three diseases, said its decision was regrettable given the serious epidemics threatening the impoverished Southeast Asian nation.
The former Burma, ruled by the military since 1962 and seen as a pariah state by the West, has up to 610,000 people living with HIV/AIDS and one of the highest rates of tuberculosis in the world.
But travel curbs on U.N. staff overseeing the implementation of Fund-financed programmes and bureaucratic hurdles in procuring medical and other supplies had forced the Fund to terminate its agreement with Yangon.
"The travel restrictions appear to be the most recent manifestation of a gradual change in the government's attitude towards international and national humanitarian efforts in Myanmar over the past few weeks," the Fund said in a background document obtained by Reuters.
"The Global Fund has now concluded that the grants cannot be implemented in a way that ensures effective programme implementation," it said, adding that all activities would cease by Dec. 1.
In recent weeks other international NGOs and U.N. agencies have complained of restrictions on their staff and humanitarian activities.
The head of the U.N. World Food Programme, James Morris, flew to Yangon earlier this month to press for the free movement of aid workers and a lifting of barriers to delivering food aid.
The Fund -- an independent organisation of governments, business and private groups first proposed by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan in 2002 -- has so far committed $3.5 billion to more than 300 programmes in 127 countries.
It is the first time the Geneva-based Global Fund has withdrawn from a country and the move is likely to stir controversy within the NGO community in Myanmar.
Some NGOs have accused the United States, a major contributor to the Fund and a staunch critic of the junta, of seeking to limit its activities in a country labelled an "outpost of tyranny" by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
But the Fund insisted the withdrawal was a result "of a change in the environment, which makes it extremely difficult to implement the safeguards system, rather than due to pressure on the Global Fund".
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