Key member resigns from Myanmar advisory panel on Rohingya crisis

Rohingya Muslim woman, Rukaya Begum, who crossed over from Myanmar into Bangladesh, holds her son Mahbubur Rehman, left and her daughter Rehana Bibi, after the government moved them to newly allocated refugee camp areas, near Kutupalong, Bangladesh. (File Photo: Dar Yasin/AP)
Updated 21 July 2018
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Key member resigns from Myanmar advisory panel on Rohingya crisis

  • Retired Thai lawmaker and ambassador Kobsak Chutikul was secretary for the panel hand-picked by civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi to advise her government
  • Kobsak Chutikul said his position became untenable ahead of a second full meeting of the panel with officials in Myanmar’s capital Naypyidaw this week

YANGON: A key member of an international advisory panel on Myanmar’s crisis-hit Rakhine state has resigned, telling AFP on Saturday that the Aung San Suu Kyi-appointed board risks becoming “part of the problem” in a conflict that forced 700,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee.
Retired Thai lawmaker and ambassador Kobsak Chutikul was secretary for the panel hand-picked by civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi to advise her government on how to handle the aftermath of a military campaign that drove the 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.
Kobsak Chutikul said his position became untenable ahead of a second full meeting of the panel with officials in Myanmar’s capital Naypyidaw this week.
“I verbally gave my resignation in a staff meeting last Tuesday (10 July),” he told AFP by phone 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 Governor Bill Richardson a one-time close confidant of Suu Kyi.
He left the panel in January in a vicious war of words with the Nobel laureate.
The government insisted it had terminated his involvement but Richardson said he stepped down due to fears the committee would only “whitewash” the causes of the Rohingya crisis.
A statement by his office Saturday said that Kobsak’s resignation “further reinforces the concerns” he held.
Kobsak, however, told AFP that he thought Governor Richardson’s departure had been premature.
But he said the board’s poor organization 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.
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.
Kobsak Chutikul said the international community should rally round new UN special envoy Christine Schraner Burgener, who he said “offers the best hope in the circumstances.”


As tensions mount, Mattis seeks more resilient US ties with China’s military

Updated 31 min 5 sec ago
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As tensions mount, Mattis seeks more resilient US ties with China’s military

  • Making military-to-military ties with China less brittle would be crucial to helping reduce the chances of a devastating conflict — analyst
  • In a recent reminder of the risks amid rising tensions, the Pentagon this month accused China of an unsafe and unprofessional maneuver in the South China Sea

SINGAPORE: US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told his Chinese counterpart on Thursday that the world’s two largest economies needed to deepen high-level ties so as to navigate tension and rein in the risk of inadvertent conflict.
Mattis saw firsthand last month how mounting Sino-US friction can undermine military contacts when Beijing up-ended plans for him to travel to China in October to meet Defense Minister Wei Fenghe.
It was retaliation for recent US sanctions, one of a growing number of flashpoints in relations between Washington and Beijing that include a bitter trade war, Taiwan and China’s increasingly muscular military posture in the South China Sea.
Mattis and Wei made no remarks as they shook hands at the start of their talks on the sidelines of a regional security conference in Singapore. The meeting ended without any public statements.
Randall Schriver, a US assistant secretary of defense who helps guide Pentagon policy in Asia, said Mattis and Wei largely restated differing views on thorny security disputes but agreed on the need for durable ties.
“Both acknowledged that the meeting itself was significant and that high-level communication can help,” Schriver said. “So I think it was productive in that regard.”
Schriver said making military-to-military ties with China less brittle would be crucial to helping reduce the chances of a devastating conflict.
“Two nuclear-armed powers with regional, if not global, interests — we need to make sure that when we step on one another’s toes, it doesn’t escalate into something that would be catastrophic,” Schriver told reporters traveling with Mattis.
Wei has a standing invitation to visit the United States but no date was agreed for his trip, Schriver said.

Managing crises
Military-to-military ties have long been one of the more fragile parts of the overall US-China relationship, with Beijing limiting contacts when tensions run high. That has been a source of major concern for years among US officials, who fear an accidental collision or mishap could quickly escalate.
“What we want in terms of stability are regular interactions at senior levels so we have a good understanding of one another’s intentions, that we have confidence-building measures that will help us prevent an unintended accident or incident,” Schriver said.
“And, should one occur, that we have the ability to manage that, so it doesn’t worsen.”
China has been infuriated by the United States putting sanctions on its military for buying weapons from Russia, and by what Beijing sees as stepped-up US support for self-ruled Taiwan, claimed by China as its sacred territory.
In a recent reminder of the risks amid rising tensions, the Pentagon this month accused China of an unsafe and unprofessional maneuver in the South China Sea that brought a Chinese ship dangerously close to a US Navy destroyer in international waters.
Mattis, speaking to reporters as he flew to Asia this week, rejected Chinese claims that the United States was acting aggressively and pointed the finger at Beijing.
“When the Chinese ships are putting bumpers over the side ... You don’t do that when you’re out in the middle of the ocean, unless you’re intending to run into something,” Mattis said.
But tensions between the United States and China have already extended well beyond naval maneuvers and even the bitter trade war.
US President Donald Trump last month accused China of seeking to meddle in Nov. 6 congressional elections, a charge almost immediately rejected by Beijing.
Vice President Mike Pence, in what was billed as a major policy address, renewed that and other accusations this month and added that Chinese security agencies had masterminded the “wholesale theft of American technology,” including military blueprints.
The Pentagon’s top concerns have been China’s rapid military modernization and simultaneous creation of military outposts in the South China Sea, a strategic waterway vital for international trade. The Pentagon withdrew an invitation to China to a multinational exercise earlier this year in protest.
China expressed disappointment to Mattis on Thursday over that decision, Schriver said.
“Minister Wei said that he did hope that there’d be future opportunities. And if the relationship progresses that way, I’m sure we’ll entertain it,” Schriver said.
“But we’re not there right now.”