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MSF protests Mt Elgon blockade

NAIROBI, July 21 – An international humanitarian agency, Medicins Sans Frontiers (MSF), said Monday that its staff have been blocked from continuing assistance to civilians affected by conflict in Mount Elgon district.

MSF Coordinator for Operations in Kenya David Michalski told a news conference in Nairobi that for the last three weeks, its staff have been stopped at road blocks and prevented by local authorities from providing medical assistance to the affected civilian population of Mount Elgon.

 The medical charity called on the authorities to lift the restrictions that have been imposed and allow resumption of vital humanitarian relief.

Michalski said referrals to hospitals of patients with emergency conditions have been hampered given the lack of transportation which used to be provided by MSF.

 "Referrals to hospital of patients with emergency conditions are hampered given the lack of transportation which used to be provided by MSF, and vulnerable people are being left in harsh and cold living conditions without access to vital assistance."

The organisation said it has carried out over 35,000 medical consultations together with the health ministry since MSF started providing free medical care to people affected directly or indirectly by the conflict since April 2007.

Last month, MSF had called for an immediate increase in aid as well as an end to indiscriminate violence against the population.

"The reality is that today MSF’s assistance is being curtailed. Despite repeated attempts to discuss the matter with the local and national authorities, no explanation has been given," the organization said.

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 The MSF said the blockage comes at a time when its teams are receiving reports of further attacks in one of the areas they used to serve.

People who had sought refuge in the highlands of Chebongweny told MSF that nine days ago, their houses, shelters and food reserves were burnt down by armed forest guards.

 Blankets were either stolen or destroyed and the clearly identified MSF medical unit, where many people had spent the night in search of safety and shelter, was also burnt down.

 "Intentionally attacking medical structures and hampering relief agencies from working, whether during conflict or periods of instability, are serious acts prohibited under the Geneva Conventions," said Michalski.

"MSF is calling on the authorities to meet with us, and lift the current restrictions so that we can continue providing humanitarian aid to the people of Mount Elgon as we have always done in a neutral and impartial manner."

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