Aung San Suu Kyi rebuked by US adviser over Rohingya crisis
Bill Richardson accuses Myanmar leader of ‘whitewash’ as he quits advisory panel
Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi: accused of failing to show moral leadership in the Rohingya crisis. Photograph: Hein Htet/EPA
Aung San Suu Kyi has suffered a stinging rebuke from a US diplomat advising on the Rohingya crisis, who accused Myanmar’s de facto leader of failing to show moral leadership and branded her government’s effort to solve the problem a “whitewash”.
Bill Richardson, a former New Mexico governor and cabinet member under US president Bill Clinton, said he could no longer “in good conscience” serve in his role on a panel advising the Myanmar government on its response to the crisis.
“It appears that the board is likely to become a cheerleading squad for government policy as opposed to proposing genuine policy changes,” Mr Richardson said in a resignation statement, adding that he would “not support a whitewash”.
The 10-member panel is part of Myanmar’s effort to safeguard its international reputation after a brutal military operation against Rohingya Muslim militants in Rakhine state that began in August.
Civilians have been killed, raped, injured and had their homes burnt down, according to some of the nearly 700,000 people who have fled into neighbouring Bangladesh. US and UN officials have labelled the military campaign ethnic cleansing.
Mr Richardson said he had accepted his role “as a friend of Myanmar and of . . . Aung San Suu Kyi, who I have known for decades”. But he said he was “taken back by the vigour with which the media, the United Nations, human rights groups and in general the international community were disparaged” during his previous three days of meetings with her and other Myanmar officials.
In further criticism of the country’s de facto leader, Mr Richardson said the response to the Rakhine crisis lacked “the commitment and moral leadership needed from the top”.
Officials in Myanmar have accused foreign media and watchdog groups of fanning the flames of the conflict, including by spreading false reports they call “fake news”. Myanmar has defended the security crackdown as self-defence against militants from the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army that it labels terrorists.
Mr Richardson also said he was “extremely upset” at Aung San Suu Kyi’s “furious” response when he brought up the case of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, Reuters reporters who are on trial for violating an official secrets act.
In an interview with Reuters following his resignation, Mr Richardson said Aung San Suu Kyi’s view was that their case “was not part of the work of the advisory board”. Reuters said the two men had done nothing wrong and the news agency and press freedom advocates have called for their release.
Aung San Suu Kyi, who won the Nobel Peace prize in 1991 and led the democratic forces that swept to power in Myanmar in 2015, has been widely criticised and stripped of numerous honours abroad for her stance on the conflict in Rakhine.
However, her defenders in Myanmar charge that she has been unfairly scapegoated for violence against the Rohingya orchestrated by the country’s powerful military and carried out by security forces and Buddhist ethnic Rakhine civilians. Myanmar has agreed with Bangladesh to repatriate some of the refugees from Rakhine, but has not yet begun to do so. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2018