Rohingya crisis: US diplomat quits Myanmar panel over Aung San Suu Kyi ′whitewashing′ | News | DW | 25.01.2018
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Rohingya crisis: US diplomat quits Myanmar panel over Aung San Suu Kyi 'whitewashing'

Bill Richardson, an old friend of Myanmar's leader, has said he will not be a "cheerleader" for her government. Myanmar has hit back at what it called a "personal attack" on Aung San Suu Kyi.

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Richardson: 'This is caused by individuals that are not giving her frank advice'

US diplomat Bill Richardson resigned from an international panel to help Myanmar deal with the Rohingya crisis on Thursday, accusing the country's leader Aung San Suu Kyi of lacking "moral leadership."

Richardson is a one-time Suu Kyi ally, but now says her government is trying to "whitewash" the plight of Muslim refugees who have fled alleged ethic cleansing in Myanmar's Rakhine state. He further criticized the government over the arrest of two reporters for Reuters news agency who were covering the crisis.

The facts behind the decision:

-     Richardson, who supported Suu Kyi when she was under house arrest by Myanmar's military dictatorship, was part of an international group brought in to advise Suu Kyi's government on what they call the "Rakhine issue."

-     680,000 Rohingya refugees have been displaced, mostly to neighboring Bangladesh, after "clearance operations" by Myanmar's Buddhist-majority government troops.

-     Bangladesh delayed the planned start of repatriations on January 23 due to concerns over safety.

-     Two reporters working for Reuters have been in detention since December, and have been charged with posessing top secret documents under the Official Secrets Act.

Richardson: I'm no cheerleader

"She blames all the problems that Myanmar is having on the international media, on the UN, on human rights groups, on other governments, and I think this is caused by the bubble that is around her, by individuals that are not giving her frank advice," Richardson said of Suu Kyi.

He added that he would not be part of a "cheerleading squad for the government."

The government of Myanmar immediately distanced itself from Richardson.

"We respect his experience in diplomacy, etiquette, and mandates," government spokesman Zaw Htay told German news agency DPA, "We are very sorry he is blaming the state counselor for the current situation."

Why this matters: Bill Richardson is the latest in a series of key figures and institutions to distance themselves from Suu Kyi for her handling of the Rohingya crisis. Most recently, the city of Oxford revoked her "Freedom of the City" award and there have been many calls to strip her of her Nobel Peace Prize, though the Nobel committee has said that such a move is impossible.

What happens next: A senior UN official said on Thursday that the violence in Rakhine state shows no signs of abating, and it is still unsafe for the Rohingya to try and return to their homes. Gradual repatriations that were meant to begin on Tuesday were stopped by Bangladesh, which said more time was needed to discern whether refugees were returning to safe places, and whether they were returning willingly.

es/rt (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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