Myanmar allows HIV shelter to continue operating

Authorities in military-ruled Myanmar gave a last-minute reprieve Thursday night to HIV patients living in a shelter run by supporters of democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, after earlier saying it had to be shut down.

Yarzar, one of the shelter's staff, said the authorities agreed Thursday night to let the patients stay. Last week, local officials ordered the 80 patients to be moved by this week, saying without explanation that it would no longer approve the requests for overnight guests that are legally required.

The shelter's organizers believed the eviction threat was issued because Suu Kyi visited it just days after her Nov. 13 release from extended house arrest, promising to help provide badly needed medicine. The ruling junta regards Suu Kyi and her nonviolent struggle for democracy as a threat to its power.

The conciliatory gesture has a hitch, however: The permits must be renewed each week, and there is no guarantee that they will be.

Still, Yarzar said, "I am greatly relieved and so are the patients."

The shelter's organizers, who are public supporters of Suu Kyi's political movement, said earlier that they would not send the patients away despite the threat of legal action

The state-run Myanma Ahlin newspaper said Wednesday that health officials had inspected the shelter in July and August and found it to be unhygienic, with patients susceptible to infections due to overcrowding.

Yarzar acknowledged the shelter was crowded but said preventive measures have been taken against the spread of diseases among the patients.

He said health authorities had offered to relocate the patients to a state-run HIV center but the patients refused to move, saying their shelter not only offers medical care, food and accommodation but "warmth and affection that no other center can provide."