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USA diplomat resigns from Aung Suu Kyi-appointed panel on Rohingya crisis
February 19 2018, 07:57 | Irvin Gilbert
Government fears sabotage in refugee repatriation
One of the key members of the worldwide advisory panel to Aung San Suu Kyi has resigned in spectacular fashion.
Richardson, a former USA 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 almost 700,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled a military crackdown on insurgents in the last five months.
Richardson said he got into an argument with Suu Kyi on Monday about the arrest of two Reuters journalists who were reporting on the crisis in Myanmar.
Mr Richardson said Ms Suu Kyi appeared to want the 10-member global advisory group, one in a string of Rohingya commissions set up by the Burma government, to endorse her policies.
In October, the USA restricted what limited non-weapons assistance it provides to Myanmar's military and its leaders, specifically cutting off those involved in the violence in northern Rakhine state ground zero for the Rohingya crisis.
The resignation deals an embarrassing public blow to Suu Kyi as her civilian government grapples with a crisis that has sent hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslim refugees fleeing into Bangladesh since August - and eviscerated her reputation as a defender of the downtrodden in the process.
Since August past year around 655,000 Muslim Rohingya have escaped over the border into Bangladesh in the wake of a military-led campaign in Rakhine state that the United Nations says amounted to "ethnic cleansing".
In the statement he also notes being taken aback by the "vigor with which the media, the United Nations, human rights groups, and in general the worldwide community were disparaged" in meeting with Suu Kyi and the Advisory Board. "To ensure the right of refugees to return voluntarily, and in safety and in dignity, we call again on Myanmar to allow the necessary unhindered humanitarian access in Rakhine State and create conditions for a genuine and lasting solution". Describing Suu Kyi's response as "furious", he said she told him it "was not part of the work of the advisory board".
The board was informed that Richardson "had to be asked to leave", it said.
The diplomat, one of the five foreigners on the 10-member committee, also criticized the lack of commitment of the Chairman of the Advisory Board, Surakiart Sathirathai from Thailand, and his "general desire to avoid the real issues at the risk of confronting our Myanmar hosts". "Without all these assurances, we don't want to go back", said Muhammad Saker, 20, a refugee from Balukhali camp who fled to Bangladesh from Buthidaung, Rakhine, in December 2016.
Myanmar officials have pointed to the report as evidence they are being transparent in their handling of the situation in Rakhine, but in a widely-publicized speech on the issue, Suu Kyi directly contradicted several of Annan's findings, and few of the recommendations have yet been implemented.
Gradual repatriations of Rohingya were to begin Tuesday under agreements signed by Myanmar and Bangladesh, but Bangladeshi officials delayed the returns at the last minute, saying more time was needed amid questions about safety and whether the refugees were returning voluntarily.
In 1982, almost all Rohingya were stripped of their citizenship rights.
Forsyth noted that worldwide organisations do not have access to many areas affected by the crisis in Myanmar.
"No matter what, from our side, Myanmar is ready to start the process, but Bangladesh may have difficulties, causing a delay in sending refugees back", said Win Myat Aye, Myanmar's social welfare minister.