NAYPYITAW — The Myanmar government expressed regret that Bill Richardson, a former American diplomat and an old friend of State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, had quit the Advisory Board on Rakhine State. President’s Office spokesperson U Zaw Htay said that it was, however, out of the government’s control.
Richardson abruptly resigned from the board after he was stopped from discussing the arrest of two Reuters journalists during the initial meeting between Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the Advisory Board on Monday, U Zaw Htay said.
“He might have feelings about the Reuters reporters. But the meeting was about the Rakhine issue, and the advisory board needs to know that it should only give advice on the Rakhine issue. He got angry with that and left, but it is out of our control,” U Zaw Htay said.
Richardson was the only board member who raised the issue of the Reuters reporters while other members focused on the Rakhine problem, he added.
In a statement released to the media after his resignation, Richardson said his decision was a matter of conscience.
“In the past three days, however, in initial meetings with members of the Advisory Board and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, it has become clear that I cannot in good conscience serve in this role [on the Advisory Board].
“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 said.
U Zaw Htay said the statement, in which Richardson also criticized Daw Aung San Suu Kyi for a lack of “moral leadership” in the Rakhine issue and expressed his disappointment at her “furious response” to his appeal for action on the case of the Reuters journalists, brought into question his mandate, duties and responsibilities.
The American politician was requested to give advice on the Rakhine issue only and was not asked to discuss all the issues of Myanmar, the President’s Office spokesperson said.
“We are sorry that he left. But we will continue doing what is necessary for Rakhine State,” U Zaw Htay said.
“We invited him, hoping that we could get his advice. But, it was wrong to discuss the reporters issue at a meeting on Rakhine State. It is not his mandate, and the advisory board was not formed to discuss that issue.”
The Myanmar government invited individuals to take part in the advisory board based on their popular reputations, and they do not represent particular countries or governments, U Zaw Htay said.
“We will continue working with other members of the board. We are dedicated to solve the Rakhine problem and create stability there for our national interests,” he said.
In his statement, Richardson questioned the sincerity of the Advisory Board, calling it a “cheerleading squad” for the policies of the Myanmar government as opposed to a vehicle for advocating genuine policy changes for peace and stability in Rakhine State.
He was harshly critical of the board chairman, former Thai deputy prime minister Dr. Surakiart Sathirathai, saying he was not genuinely committed to implementing the Rakhine Advisory Commission recommendations out of fear of confronting “our Myanmar hosts.”
The government formed the Advisory Board on Rakhine State led by Surakiart on Dec. 14, 2017.
A government committee led by Minister for Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement Dr. Win Myat Aye has been implementing the 88-point final report submitted by Kofi Annan-led Rakhine State Advisory Commission in August.
Richardson was the US Ambassador to the United Nations and Energy Secretary in the Clinton administration and Governor of New Mexico. He was a staunch supporter of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi while Myanmar was under military control.