Myanmar Muslim hospital offers hope in troubled times

 Myanmar Muslim hospital offers hope in troubled times

YANGON - From political activists freed after years in Myanmar's jails to stricken and impoverished families, all are welcome at Yangon's Muslim Free Hospital - a symbol of unity in a country riven by religious unrest.

There is barely a space left unoccupied in the bustling medical centre.

From the soot-smeared front steps, through dusty stairwells and into sweltering wards, people wait for treatments that would be beyond their reach elsewhere in Myanmar's desperately underfunded health system.

The throngs of people - the hospital sees up to 500 outpatients a day - are a testament to the diversity of the Buddhist-majority country's main city, with flashes of colour from Myanmar skirt-like longyis and Muslim headscarves. "I am a surgeon so my responsibility is to cure suffering patients," Tin Myo Win said before setting out on a tour of the wards.

"The policy of this hospital is not to discriminate. It does not matter whether people are rich or poor, or what religion they are," he said.

The doctor, a well-known former political prisoner who has for years been the personal physician for opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, said he had treated "many monks" during 21 years at the hospital.

The facility is a rare beacon of communal harmony in a country reeling from recent religious violence that has exposed deepening national fractures as it emerges from the shadows of military rule.

Around 250 people have been killed and more than 140,000 left homeless in several outbreaks of violence since June 2012, mainly minority Muslims who have been the target of riots and a nationalistic campaign led by some radical monks.

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