Surakiart: Myanmar crisis panel's credibility intact

Surakiart: Myanmar crisis panel's credibility intact

Surakiart Sathirathai (left) shakes hands with Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Jan 22, after she appointed Surakiart to head an international panel on the Rohingya crisis. (Photo via Suu Kyi's office, via AP)
Surakiart Sathirathai (left) shakes hands with Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Jan 22, after she appointed Surakiart to head an international panel on the Rohingya crisis. (Photo via Suu Kyi's office, via AP)

The Thai head of the international panel set up by Myanmar's leader Aung San Suu Kyi to advise on its Rohingya crisis, said its credibility was intact despite the departure of its most prominent member.

Surakiart Sathirathai, a former foreign minister, said in an exclusive interview in Bangkok on Thursday that the panel's remaining nine members would draw on their experience to advise on how to act on recommendations of an earlier commission headed by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

"I think that both the four international board members and five Myanmar members have a lot of social capital. We have a lot of experience and we will draw on that experience to ... provide advice," Surakiart said in an interview.

His comments came days after veteran US diplomat Bill Richardson quit the panel advising Aung San Suu Kyi's government, saying it was conducting a "whitewash" and that he feared it would be used as a "cheerleading squad".

Surakiart was deputy prime minister and minister of foreign affairs from 2001-2005 in the first Thaksin Shinawatra government. He was one of the top four candidates for the post of UN secretary-general in 2007, a vote finally won by Ban Ki-moon of South Korea.

An estimated 688,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar to Bangladesh since August, during a heightened campaign of army violence and Buddhist clashes that has killed thousands.

The United Nations has described Myanmar's crackdown as ethnic cleansing, a description Myanmar denies.

The advisory board's nine remaining members have rejected Richardson's criticism of the panel. Suu Kyi's office said her government had asked Richardson to step down.

"It is unfortunate ... that Governor Richardson decided to grab headlines," Surakiart said.

"...There is a big gap of international interpretation and domestic interpretation of what has happened in Rakhine state and one of the things that the advisory board would like to do is find a way to narrow this gap."

Richardson, a former governor of the US state of New Mexico, said last month that Suu Kyi was upset when he suggested that there should be an investigation into the killing of 10 Rohingya, whose bodies were found in a mass grave in a Rakhine village.

Myanmar's military said its security forces were responsible for those deaths.

Richardson also raised the case of two Reuters reporters who were arrested on Dec 12 on suspicion of violating Myanmar's Official Secrets Act, a colonial-era secrecy law.

If convicted, Myanmar nationals Wa Lone, 31, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 27, face up to 14 years in jail.

Surakiart said he and other panel members had been "reassured again and again that the case would be accorded with the due process of law and criminal justice procedure".

Surakiart added that the panel wants to encourage "more media access" to Rakhine.

The two Reuters reporters were refused bail by a Yangon court on Thursday.

An advisory team led by former UN Secretary-General Annan last year suggested a review of a Myanmar law that links citizenship and ethnicity and leaves most Rohingya stateless.

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