The international humanitarian aid agency, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), has “suspended” its activities in south Chhattisgarh’s Bijapur district after the government issued an “order of suspension.”

The district administration has asked ICRC to “negotiate” with the Union and State government, officials told The Hindu, and added that another aid agency, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), had also been asked to “negotiate their terms” with the government.

The ICRC’s spokesperson said the agency had suspended its activities in Bijapur and was “seeking clarifications” from the government.

In a letter issued to ICRC, the Bijapur district administration has asked the agency to suspend work immediately and talk to both the State and the Central governments.

“We have told them to sign an MoU with the State and clear the diplomatic issues with the Central government,” said a district official, without clarifying the nature of the diplomatic roadblocks. “We issued a notice earlier asking them to sign the MoU, which they have not. They told us that it is in the process. So finally we asked them to leave the district,” said a senior official.

ICRC has received the letter on Wednesday and immediately “suspended its activities in Bijapur,” the organisation’s communication coordinator Marek Resich told The Hindu. Mr. Resich said the agency “ … is seeking clarifications from the State and Union authorities about this letter.”

Red Cross works from a government health centre in the Kutru block of Bijapur, one of the epicentres of the Salwa Judum-led unrest. Large scale violence prevented the government’s medical programmes to take off in Kutru and other adjoining areas of the district. Even after the withdrawal of Salwa Judum, health workers were not willing to work in the district, one-third of which is controlled by the Maoists. So when ICRC offered to work in the area soon after BJP was elected for the second time in 2008, Chief Minister Raman Singh welcomed the agency as lack of basic health care facilities is one of the problems in the region.

ICRC started its medical assistance programme in 2010 in Kutru with a skeleton staff and eventually expanded the unit. At present, it had one MBBS doctor, two nurses, two health educators and one ambulance driver. Observers feel it is impossible to get professional medical assistance from a qualified team in the divisive areas of Chhattisgarh, virtually without any cost. The villagers told The Hindu during a visit few months ago that the Red Cross’s clinic has addressed their “day-to-day health care needs.”

“The clinic is particularly helpful for the kids in the residential schools and the women,” said Bedma Sudas of Kutru.

“We have the doctors of the health department now in Kutru, so we can manage things,” said an official. ICRC recently started another mobile health clinic at Chintalnar in the Sukma district of south Chhattisgarh. In March, students of Chintalnar residential school told this correspondent that they visited the ICRC facility as the local health centres were closed almost the entire month.

The MSF has also been asked to sign a MoU with the state government, but have not been asked to leave the district.

“We have not received any formal communication for a State-level agreement yet, we have discussed it (MoU) with district authorities and following up the process,” said deputy director of MSF India Dr. Swapan Kachop. The MSF “welcomes stronger collaboration” with concerned government departments, he said.

In 2011, the police in south Bastar alleged that both ICRC and MSF were “facilitating the treatment of Maoist rebels.” The then police chief of Dantewada S.R.P. Kolluri told this correspondent that they “arrested two rebels with medicines worth Rs.30,000.” “The rebels claimed that they were being treated by people from MSF and ICRC,” he had said.

Both MSF and ICRC had denied the allegation, saying that “patients are not judged by political affiliations.” They were eventually allowed to continue in the region.