Former U.S. diplomat Bill Richardson resigned Wednesday from an international board that advises Myanmar on the Rohingya crisis, charging the panel was not committed to change in the Southeast Asian country.
“It appears that the board is likely to become a cheerleading squad for government policy, as opposed to proposing genuine policy changes that are desperately needed to assure peace, stability and development in the Rakhine State,” he said in a statement.
Richardson, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and energy secretary in the Bill Clinton administration, quit in the midst of the board’s first visit to western Rakhine State, where nearly 700,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled a military crackdown on insurgents in the last five months.
Richardson said Myanmar’s leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, was deficient in “moral leadership,” an accusation that came two days after a meeting with her and other board members. Richardson said he and Suu Kyi got into an argument when he mentioned the case of two Reuters reporters covering the crisis who are on trial on accusations of violating laws to protect state secrets.
Suu Kyi said the issue was not the work of the board, according to Richardson, who later described her initial reaction to his inquiry as “furious.” He said the quarrel continued at a dinner later in the day.
The journalists were arrested by police Dec. 12 in Yangon for allegedly possessing secret documents pertaining to Rakhine’s security situation.
Myanmar government spokesman Zaw Htay reaffirmed Suu Kyi’s stance in comments to reporters later Wednesday, calling such inquiries outside of the commission’s mandate.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters in Washington that Richardson’s resignation and his reasons for doing so “are cause for concern.”
In interviews with reporters shortly after quitting the board, Richardson also had harsh words for the board’s chairman, Surakiart Sathirathai, a former Thai deputy prime minster and foreign minister. He said Sathirathai is not committed to addressing the issues of safety and citizenship for the Rohingyas, who are denied citizenship and other rights in Buddhist-majority Myanmar.
Myanmar views the Rohingya as immigrants from Bangladesh, despite the fact that many families have lived in Myanmar for generations.
Rohingya witnesses and human rights activists have accused the armed forces of committing murder, rape and arson in a campaign the U.N. and the U.S. maintain is ethnic cleansing.
At Monday’s meeting, Richardson said he was “taken aback by the vigor with which the media, the United Nations, human rights groups, and in general the international community were disparaged.”
Neither Suu Kyi nor her spokesman responded to requests for comment.
In an earlier version of this story, VOA identified Richardson as an active instead of former U.S. diplomat. VOA regrets the error.