US diplomat quits Rohingya advisory panel

Bill Richardson has said that Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi lacks 'moral leadership'

US diplomat, Bill Richardson
US diplomat, Bill Richardson

Veteran US diplomat Bill Richardson has resigned from an international panel set up by Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi to advise on the Rohingya crisis.

In a statement, Richardson claimed the panel was a "whitewash" and accused Suu Kyi of lacking "moral leadership" on the issue.

He told Reuters he did not want to be part of a "cheerleading squad for the government".

Richardson, a former Clinton administration cabinet member, quit as the 1-member advisory board was making its first visit to Rakhine state, from where nearly 700,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled in recent months.

He said Suu Kyi’s response was “furious”, saying the case of the reporters “was not part of the work of the advisory board”. The argument continued at a dinner later that evening, the former New Mexico governor said.

Myanmar's government has not yet responded, but another member of the panel said  Richardson's comments were unfair.

The military offensive that led to a mass exodus from Myanmar's northern Rakhine state has been described by the United Nations as a "textbook example of ethnic cleansing" - something Myanmar denies.

Bill Richardson, former governor of New Mexico, has sharply criticised Aung San Suu Kyi, having said he had got into an argument with Su Kyi during a meeting on Monday after he raised the case of two Reuters reporters who are on trial for breaching the Official Secrets Act.

Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi
Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi

The journalists were working on coverage of the Rohingya crisis at the time.

Suu Kyi was "furious", he said, insisting that the case "was not part of the work of the advisory board".

Richardson went on to say he had been "taken aback by the vigour" with which she had "disparaged" the media, the UN, human rights groups and the international community during three days of meetings.

On Suu Kyi herself - someone he said he had known since the 1980s - he said: "She's not getting good advice from her team.

"I like her enormously and respect her. But she has not shown moral leadership on the Rakhine issue and the allegations made, and I regret that."

Until Mr Richardson resigned, the board had 10 members, five of whom are from overseas.

One of those, former South African Defence Minister Roelof Meyer, travelled with the board's remaining members to Rakhine state on Wednesday.

Heather Nauert, a US state department spokeswoman, called Richardson’s decision to resign from the board and his reasons for doing so “cause for concern”, but noted he had been acting as a private citizen in joining the board and visiting Myanmar, which is also known as Burma.