Former US Diplomat Bill Richardson to Visit Myanmar

By The Irrawaddy 1 November 2021

Former US diplomat Bill Richardson will arrive in military-ruled Myanmar on Monday on a private mission and meet with some regime officials.

The ex-New Mexico governor said in a statement that he is on a humanitarian trip in coordination with his contacts in Myanmar.

“We are visiting the country to discuss pathways for the humanitarian delivery of COVID-19 vaccines, medical supplies, and other public health needs,” he said.

The statement didn’t mention whom he would meet during the visit, but The Irrawaddy has learned that during his stay in Myanmar, Richardson will meet regime-appointed Health Minister Dr. Thet Khine Win and Foreign Minister U Wunna Maung Lwin.

The Southeast Asian country has been in political turmoil and plagued by deadly violence and civil unrest since the military staged a coup in February by toppling the democratically elected government led by the country’s de facto leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. So far, the junta has killed more than 1,000 people who opposed its rule.

Following the takeover, the US imposed sanctions against the ruling military leadership and their family members while suspending a trade deal with the country. Richardson is the first US non-state figure to engage with the regime.

The former New Mexico governor’s last visit to the country was in 2018 as a member of an international panel set up to help resolve the Rohingya crisis. But he abruptly quit the body after clashing with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi on a related issue—his attempt to secure the release of two Reuters journalists detained for their reporting on a massacre of Rohingya committed by the army.

When the Myanmar military staged a coup in February, Richardson tweeted: “Because of Suu Kyi’s failure to promote Democratic values as Myanmar’s de-facto leader she should step aside & let others take the rein with international backing and support.”

Richardson’s visit this time coincides with the junta’s detention of American journalist Danny Fenster, who was arrested in May and has been charged with incitement for spreading false information. Given his previous efforts, it’s not clear whether the ex-governor will try his luck with the regime and attempt to secure the release of the journalist.

The ex-governor will be joined on the trip by Cameron Hume, former US ambassador to Indonesia, South Africa and Algeria; and two officials from the Richardson Center.

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