ICRC head in Myanmar to gain access to prisons, conflict zones

Sun Jan 13, 2013 1:27pm EST
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By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) - The head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) arrived in Myanmar on Sunday to set up inspections of its prisons and seek access to conflict-hit border areas, the humanitarian agency said on Sunday.

The surprise six-day visit, the first by an ICRC president, follows an announcement by President Thein Sein's office last November that authorities would allow ICRC officials to visit detention centers, it said.

"Myanmar's government has signaled its readiness to discuss a number of humanitarian issues with us. This is a significant step forward in our dialogue and in strengthening our relationship with the Myanmar authorities," ICRC President Peter Maurer said in a statement.

Maurer is due to hold talks with Thein Sein and other members of the new quasi-civilian government in the capital Naypyitaw on Monday.

"The talks are expected to focus on the recent announcement by the government that it will allow our staff to visit detention places," Maurer, a Swiss citizen, said.

ICRC officials visit prisoners worldwide to monitor their treatment and conditions of detention. In exchange for access, its confidential findings are shared only with authorities.

"We have the green light. We expect pilot visits to start quite soon," ICRC spokesman Philippe Stoll told Reuters.

Myanmar released dozens more political detainees during a visit by U.S. President Barack Obama last November.   Continued...

Peter Maurer, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), looks on during a news conference in Geneva September 7, 2012. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse