Once a Friend always not be a Friend
By Aman Ullah
One of Aung San Suu Kyi’s closest allies has resigned from an international advisory board calling it a “whitewash” and accusing the country’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi of lacking “moral leadership”. Richardson, a former Clinton administration cabinet member is a long time supporter of Aung San Suu Kyi and Myanmar.
Richardson was the first visitor allowed, besides her family and physicians, since her home arrest on July 19, 1989. He went to Rangoon in February 1994 to visit Daw Aung San Suu Kyi at her home. The United Nations Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Burma has reportedly denied access to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. The first meeting was on February 14, which lasted about three hours, included Jehan Raheem, the resident representative of UNDP in Rangoon and Philip Shenon of New York Times. Richardson delivered there a letter from US President Bill Clinton to Daw Suu.
In his letter, President Bill Clinton has told Daw Suu that he was confident that her struggle for democracy would succeed. Clinton also wrote in that letter that, “History is on the side of freedom and I remain confident that your cause will prevail.”
Richardson met Daw Suu again on Feb. 15 for two and half hours and received letters from her for UN Secretary-General Dr Boutros Boutros Ghali, for UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and for her husband Dr Michael Aris.
In a press Conference in Bangkok on Feb. 16, Richardson praised Daw Suu as “a woman of towering intellect and strength of conscience, a woman who stands for the best ideals of democracy and a woman that is ready to engage in talks.” He also made it clear that Daw Suu cannot be excluded from the political process in Burma.
Since then Bill Richardson was not only a close friend but also a long time supporter of Daw Suu. At that time he proposed to face to face discussion between Daw Suu and Let-General Khin Nyunt, Head of Burmese Intelligence and Secretary-1 of SLORC, to promote a dialogue between the military regime and the democratic opposition. He also said that he thinks the future of Burma will be determined by two people Daw Suu and Khin Nyunt and it is critically important to get these two major players to get know each other and engage in pre-dialogue.
Veteran U.S. diplomat Bill Richardson has resigned from an international panel set up by Myanmar to advise on the Rohingya crisis, saying it was conducting a “whitewash” and accusing the country’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi of lacking “moral leadership”.
Richardson, a former Clinton administration cabinet member, quit as the 10-member advisory board was making its first visit to western Rakhine State, from where nearly 700,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled in recent months.
“The main reason I am resigning is that this advisory board is a whitewash,” Richardson told Reuters in an interview, adding he did not want to be part of “a cheerleading squad for the government”.
Richardson said he got into an argument with Suu Kyi during a meeting on Monday with other members of the board when he brought up the case of two Reuters reporters who are on trial accused of breaching the country’s Officials Secrets Act.
During an interview with the Associated Press, Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson on Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2018, in Yangon, Richardson said “It just seemed like a big photo-op, and I said I’m not going to be part of that,” Richardson said. “Before there is repatriation, there have to be monitors to ensure that that repatriation is properly done. There have to be human rights safeguards. There has to be a commitment, a path to citizenship. There have to be assurances of safety and freedom of movement, and so far there aren’t.”
Some Myanmar officials are working hard to help people in Rakhine, Richardson said, and he held out hope that the advisory panel might press the government to push through his suggestion of an investigation of widespread reports that the military in Myanmar buried Rohingya victims in many mass graves.
Though he said members of the advisory board were generally “serious people that could be very helpful,” Richardson had tough words for the panel’s leader, Surakiart Sathirathai, a former Thai foreign minister.
“There’s no agenda, there’s no plan to address some of the issues relating to safety, to citizenship,” Richardson said. “I don’t want to be part of a whitewash, and I felt it best that I resign immediately.”
He also disparaged a trip Wednesday by the panel to the border to see Myanmar’s preparations for a possible gradual repatriation of some Rohingya. Bangladesh says it needs more time to prepare for the transfer, and the refugees are deeply sceptical, if not outright terrified, about returning.
The resignation of Richardson will come as a blow to both the reputation of the international panel and Suu Kyi herself.
The former democracy fighter and Nobel Peace Prize laureate has come in for intense criticism since the Rohingya crisis intensified last year, but has retained many defenders, particularly in Washington, where she is seen as a vital part of the country’s shift to democracy and tilt towards the US and away from China.
During Suu Kyi’s years-long house arrest under the junta, Richardson was one of the first westerners to visit her, and had maintained a friendship with her for “decades,” he said.
A major break for the pair appears to have been the detention of two Reuters journalists who were investigating allegations of ethnic cleansing in Rakhine. They are currently facing up to 14 years in prison.
“I was extremely upset at (Suu Kyi’s) reaction to my request that she address the situation of the two Reuters journalists both swiftly and fairly,” Richardson said, a request he said sparked a “furious” response from Suu Kyi.