Govt says Richardson pursuing own agenda
Myanmar has decided not to further involve veteran US politician Bill Richardson from the 10-member Rakhine advisory team, saying it is in the best interests of all concerned.
FORMER New Mexico governor Bill Richardson on Thursday announced his resignation from a board advising the government on the implementation of projects and policies to address the northern Rakhine crisis, but Myanmar is not losing sleep over it and accuse the veteran US politician of pursuing his own agenda.
The Myanmar State Counsellor’s Office said in a statement that Richardson was pursuing his own agenda and had exceeded the mandate of the Advisory Board on Rakhine State.
The statement said that during the initial two-day meeting of the 10-member body that started on Monday, “it became evident that the intent of Governor Bill Richardson…was not to provide advice based on the recommendations of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State chaired by Dr Kofi Annan but to pursue his own agenda.”
“The government decided that his continued participation on the board would not be in the best interest of all concerned,” the statement said.
In his statement released earlier in the day, Richardson flayed Myanmar leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi for lack of moral leadership in handling the Rakhine crisis.
Richardson said that while he recognised the fact that the military still wields significant power in the country, “the absence of Daw Suu’s moral leadership on this critical issue is of great concern.”
Richardson was one of the five international experts in the 10-member Advisory Board on Rakhine State that was to help the government implement projects that will provide lasting solutions 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 that are desperately needed to assure peace, stability and development in Rakhine State,” he said.
The advisory body was organized in December by President U Htin Kyaw to provide suggestions to the committee tasked to implement the recommendations made by the Kofi Annan-led commission in mid-2017 after investigating the troubles in northern Rakhine in late 2016.
On August 25 last year, a new round of violence engulfed the area after fighters of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), which the government classifies as a terrorist organisation, launched si- multaneous attacks on government outposts that killed several security forces.
Subsequent retaliation by the Tatmadaw – the country’s armed forces – caused over 650,000 mostly Muslim residents to flee to neighbouring Bangladesh to escape the violence.
Richardson said he was “extremely upset” at the “furious” reaction by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to his request “to address the situation of the two Reuters journalists both swiftly and fairly.”
The two journalists – Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo – are under arrest after they were caught in possession of classified documents and face trial on the charge of violating the country’s colonial-era Official Secrets Act. The duo could face up to 14 years in jail if convicted.
Richardson also said that during the initial meeting of the advisory board with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, “I was taken aback by the vigor with which the media, the United Nations, human rights groups and in general the international community were disparaged.”
He was also dismayed at the conduct of board chair Surakiart Sathirathai, a former Thai foreign minister, who “parroted the dangerous and untrue notion that international NGOS employ radicals and that humanitarian agencies are providing material support to ARSA.”
“Surakiart’s general desire to avoid the real issues at the risk of confronting our Myanmar hosts, lead to an agenda devoid of any meaningful engagement with the local communities in Rakhine, whose people the Advisory Board is meant to serve,” Richardson said.