YANGON, Myanmar — The international aid group Doctors Without Borders announced Wednesday that it has returned to Myanmar's troubled state of Rakhine nine months after it was ordered out by the government for hiring members of the long-persecuted Rohingya Muslim minority.
The announcement follows a visit by U.N. human rights envoy Yanghee Lee to the state, which has been ripped apart by sectarian violence since the predominately Buddhist country started moving from a half-century of military rule to democracy four years ago.
Up to 280 people have been killed and another 140,000 forced to flee their homes, most of them Rohingya who now live in crowded, dirty camps outside the state capital, Sittwe. Unable to leave without paying hefty bribes to authorities, they have limited access to adequate healthcare, education or livelihood opportunities.
Doctors Without Borders says before it was ousted it provided services to more than 700,000 people across Rakhine, the second-poorest state in Myanmar. But Buddhist Rakhine extremists resented the services that were given to the Rohingya.
Soon after the agency was expelled, anti-Rohingya mobs attacked the offices and residences of U.N. agencies, OXFAM, Save the Children, Solidarities International and others in Sittwe, forcing aid groups to evacuate almost 1,000 personnel.
Lee said at a news conference in Yangon last week that the Nobel prize-winning group quietly returned in mid-December, which was confirmed by the organization in a statement Wednesday.
But Lee said the situation for the displaced Rohingya remains dire and humanitarian access minimal.
Doctors Without Borders said it has treated more than 3,480 outpatients and had consultations with more than 550 pregnant women in the past four weeks.