Bill Richardson, the former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and governor of the state of New Mexico, has resigned from his post within an international panel established by the government of Myanmar to help organize the return of Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh.
Responding to his departure, Richardson said the Myanmar government was doing nothing but perpetuating a “whitewash” and that the country's de-facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi lacked “moral leadership.”
The former diplomat affirmed that "the main reason I am resigning is that this advisory board is a whitewash," according to Al Jazeera. He added that he had no intention of becoming a "cheerleading squad for the (Myanmar) government."
Richardson revealed that when he brought up the issue of two Reuters reporters - Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo – who are on trial, accused of breaching the country's Official Secrets Act while covering the crisis in Rakhine state, during a meeting with Suu Kyi, the conversation descended into an argument. He said his query was met by a “furious” response from Suu Kyi who said the case of the reporters “was not part of the advisory board.” The argument would resume later that evening at dinner Richardson said, according to the report.
Zaw Htay, Suu Kyi's spokesperson, said the panel had convened to discuss issues related to the “Rakhine issue” and that Richardson had veered to a “topic outside the agenda of the meetings and went beyond the framework.”
Richardson went on to say that he was "taken aback by the vigor with which the media, the U.N., human rights groups and in general the international community were disparaged," as the panel held meetings with Myanmar officials during the past three days.
He concluded that Suu Kyi is "not getting good advice from her team" and though he liked her and respected her “enormously” but she has “not shown moral leadership on the Rakhine issue and the allegations made, and I regret that.”
Myanmar's government plans to repatriate nearly 700,000 Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh back to the state of Rakhine. However, Rohingya leaders in Kutupalong, a refugee camp in Bangladesh housing some 650,000 refugees, have drawn up a list of demands Myanmar authorities must meet before the repatriation process gets underway.
Two demands on the list emphasize that the Rohingya people be included as one of the country's ethnic minorities and be given citizenship, a measure that has long been denied by the Myanmar government.
Other demands include the return of occupied land to Rohingya refugees, as well as the rebuilding of homes, mosques, and schools. “Innocent Rohingya” detained in counter-insurgency operations are to be released from jails and the military is to be held responsible for alleged killings, rape, and looting, according to Reuters.