YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — The International Committee of the Red Cross said Thursday it will resume visits to detainees in Myanmar's prisons next week after a hiatus of more than seven years, the latest sign of reform in the once-pariah nation.
Peter Maurer, who heads the Geneva-based organization, announced the change after meeting Myanmar President Thein Sein and other top officials in the Southeast Asian nation this week. Restrictions imposed by Myanmar's former junta had prevented ICRC staff from visiting inmates since December 2005. The junta ceded power to an elected government in 2011 that has made democratic reforms since then.
The ICRC oversees the Geneva Conventions for the conduct of war and is mandated by the international community to visit detainees in conflict zones. The organization also visits people detained in other situations of violence, and is sometimes the only link between families and prisoners.
Prior to suspending its work in Myanmar, the group regularly met prisoners at dozens of jails and labor camps nationwide. They checked on inmates' health and treatment and provided them with soaps and medicines.
Maurer praised the government's move to allow unfettered prison access again, welcoming the "positive attitude" of those who made it happen. "We want to see all prisoners indiscriminately and we want to be able to return to prison," he told reporters, adding that he expected that to happen next week.
Maurer's trip was the first of any ICRC president, and during the visit he also met Home Affairs Minister Lt. Gen. Ko Ko, Defense Minister Gen. Wai Lwin and opposition lawmaker Aung San Suu Kyi. Mauer was due to make a brief trip Thursday to western Rakhine state, which has been torn since last June by ethnic and sectarian violence that has driven more than 100,000 people from their homes. Clashes have pitted the Buddhist Rakhine against a largely stateless Muslim minority known as the Rohingya, who comprise the majority of the displaced.