As Rohingya Muslims continue to flee violence in Myanmar, the United Nations said it is recalling its top official in the country, Canadian Renata Lok-Dessallien, amid controversy surrounding her actions.
Sources speaking to British media have accused Lok-Dessallien, the UN resident and humanitarian co-ordinator in Myanmar, of discouraging internal discussion and action regarding the humanitarian crisis in the country’s Rakhine state. More than 500,000 minority Rohingya have fled the area, and most of them have sought refuge in neighbouring Bangladesh.
The latest violence in Rakhine state began when a Rohingya insurgent group launched deadly attacks on security posts in August, prompting a swift and deadly response from Myanmar's military.
Those fleeing the violence said the security forces and Buddhist mobs have been indiscriminately attacking the Rohingya. The Myanmar government has said that the Rohingya set fire to their own homes, but the UN has described the violence as ethnic cleansing.
Sources inside Myanmar have told the BBC and The Guardian that the UN designation in the country, led by Lok-Dessallien, has tried to prevent the humanitarian crisis in Rakhine state from being properly addressed.
The sources have accused Lok-Dessallien and the UN team of isolating staff who try to bring up the Rohingya situation at high-level meetings.
The allegations against Lok-Dessallien have not been proven and just about two weeks ago, the UN Secretary General said he had full confidence in Lok-Dessallien. As well, a UN statement defended her handling of the Rohingya issue and said her departure was part of a succession process.
The UN had initially said Lok-Dessallien would be rotated out of her position in Myanmar in August, for reasons unrelated to her performance. She was officially recalled this week and has until the end of October to leave.
Matthew Russell Lee, a reporter who covers the UN for the Inner City Press in New York City, said that Lok-Dessallien and some other UN officials in Myanmar have been accused of getting too close to the Myanmar government and not addressing the humanitarian crisis.
The UN has not announced a replacement for Lok-Dessallien and it is unclear what will happen to that position, Lee told CTV’s Your Morning on Thursday.
Based on the United Nations team’s performance in Myanmar so far, the UN is not the right organization to handle the Rohingya crisis, he added.
“It’s not a good day for the UN and it’s an even worse day for the Rohingya,” he said.
Before her post in Myanmar, Lok-Dessallien has been the UN’s representative in China, and has held various UN positions in Bangladesh, Bhutan, and Mali, among other countries.
With files from The Associated Press