Rohingya refugees walk through heavy rain at the Kutupalong camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. (Reuters Photo)
YANGON: Former foreign minister Kobsak Chutikul has quit an international advisory panel on strife-torn Rakhine state, saying the body risks becoming “part of the problem” in the conflict that has forced 700,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee.
Mr Kobsak was the secretary of the panel hand-picked by State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi to advise her government on how to handle the aftermath of a military campaign that drove the Muslim minority out of the country.
The brutal crackdown started in August last year and left hundreds of Rohingya villages razed to the ground.
Refugees to Bangladesh have recounted horrifying testimony of widespread murder, rape and torture in violence the UN and US have branded as ethnic cleansing.
Mr Kobsak said his position became untenable ahead of a second full meeting of the panel with officials in Nay Pyi Daw this week.
“I verbally gave my resignation in a staff meeting last Tuesday (July 10),” he told AFP from Bangkok.
The board, he said, risks becoming a “part of the problem”.
“It lulls authorities into thinking they have done enough to respond to the concerns of the international community, that they’ve ticked that box,” he added.
“It becomes dangerous in terms of an illusion that something is being done … that they’re going to do something while Rome burns.”
The credibility of the advisory board was undermined early on by the resignation of veteran US diplomat Bill Richardson a one-time close confidant of Suu Kyi. He left the panel in January after a nasty war of words with the Nobel laureate.
The government insisted it had terminated his involvement but Mr Richardson said he stepped down because he feared the committee would only “whitewash” the causes of the Rohingya crisis.
A statement from his office on Saturday said that Mr Kobsak’s resignation “further reinforces the concerns” he held.
Mr Kobsak, however, told AFP that he thought Mr Richardson’s departure had been premature.
But he said the board’s poor organisation and funding severely curtailed its work.
“We were winging it on the fly, not really in full grasp of the full facts and figures. Everyone was all over the place — we don’t have a permanent office anywhere,” he told AFP.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s reputation lies in tatters internationally for her failure to speak up on behalf of the Rohingya Muslims, a stateless group persecuted over decades in Myanmar.
There was no immediate reaction from her office or the panel.
The advisory board has so far dismayed rights groups for not mentioning the word “Rohingya” — a name Buddhist-majority Myanmar rejects, preferring the pejorative term “Bengali” that implies the community are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
Mr Kobsak said the international community should rally around new UN special envoy Christine Schraner Burgener, who he said “offers the best hope in the circumstances”.
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