US diplomat Bill Richardson resigned early Thursday from an Aung San Suu Kyi-appointed panel set up to ease communal tensions in Myanmar’s Rakhine State and hit out at the Nobel Laureate for an “absence of moral leadership” over the crisis.
In a statement that pulled few punches, the former US governor and one-time Suu Kyi ally said he could not in “good conscience” sit on a panel that would likely serve only to “whitewash” the causes behind the Rohingya exodus.
“The main reason I am resigning is that this advisory board is a whitewash,” Richardson told Reuters in an interview, adding he did not want to be part of “a cheerleading squad for the government”.
Richardson said he got into an argument with Suu Kyi during a meeting on Monday with other members of the board, when he brought up the case of two Reuters reporters who are on trial accused of breaching the country’s Official Secrets Act.
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.
Wa Lone, 31, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 27, were arrested in December and face up to 14 years in jail under the Official Secrets Act over the alleged possession of classified documents, purportedly relating to the army campaign in Rakhine that sparked the exodus.
Speaking to reporters following his decision, Richardson said he was “taken aback” by the disparagement of the media, the UN, human rights groups and the international community and alarmed by the “lack of sincerity” with which the issue of Rohingya citizenship was discussed.
Rohingya have been denied citizenship for decades in a discriminatory system that heavily restricts their rights and movement within Myanmar.