YANGON, Myanmar -- Doctors Without Borders said Friday that it has been expelled from Myanmar, and that tens of thousands of lives are at risk. The decision came after the humanitarian group reported that it treated nearly two dozen Rohingya Muslim victims of communal violence in Rakhine state, which the government has denied.
The humanitarian group said it was "deeply shocked" by Myanmar's decision to expel it after two decades of work in the country.
The United States said it was very concerned, and urged the Yangon government to continue to provide "unfettered" access for humanitarian agencies.
"Today, for the first time in MSF's history of operations in the country, HIV/AIDS clinics in Rakhine, Shan and Kachin states, as well as Yangon division, were closed, and patients were unable to receive the treatment they needed," a Doctors Without Borders statement said, using the French acronym for its name.
As Myanmar's main HIV drug provider, supplying treatment to 30,000 people, the group described the impact as devastating.
Myanmar's presidential spokesman Ye Htut had criticized Doctors Without Borders in the Myanmar Freedom newspaper for hiring "Bengalis," the term the government uses for the Rohingya Muslim minority, and lacking transparency in its work. He also accused the group of misleading the world about an attack last month in the remote northern part of Rakhine.
The United Nations says more than 40 Rohingya may have been killed, but the government has vehemently denied allegations that a Buddhist mob rampaged through a village, killing women and children. It says one policeman was killed by Rohingya, and no other violence occurred.
Doctors Without Borders said it treated 22 injured and traumatized Rohingya.
Myanmar, a predominantly Buddhist nation of 60 million, only recently emerged from a half-century of military rule. Since then, ethnic tensions have swept Rakhine state, raising concerns from the United States and others that the bloodshed could undermine democratic reforms. As many as 280 people have been killed, and tens of thousands more have fled their homes, most of them Rohingya.
Since the violence erupted in June 2012, Doctors Without Borders has worked in 15 Rakhine state camps for displaced people. For many of the sickest patients, the organization offers the best and sometimes only care, because traveling outside the camps for treatment in local Buddhist-run hospitals can be dangerous and expensive. The aid group has worked to help smooth the referral process for emergency transport from some camps.
Due to increasing intimidation from a group of Rakhine Buddhists holding near daily protests against Doctors Without Borders, the organization has said its activities have been severely hampered.
The U.S. State Department said it understood that Doctors Without Borders and Myanmar officials are in discussions on the group resuming operations.