- Title: Despite clash, Richardson says Suu Kyi remains Myanmar's best hope
- Date: 27th January 2018
- Summary: BAY OF BENGAL, COX'S BAZAR, BANGLADESH (FILE - SEPTEMBER 5, 2017) (REUTERS) VARIOUS OF ROHINGYA REFUGEES WALKING TOWARDS A NEARBY VILLAGE TO TAKE SHELTER
- Embargoed: 10th February 2018 00:02
- Keywords: Bill Richardson Aung San Suu Kyi advisory board on Rohingya crisis jailed Reuters journalists
- Location: SANTE FE, NEW MEXICO, UNITED STATES / NEAR MAUNGDAW, NORTH OF RAKHINE STATE + NAYPYITAW + YANGON, MYANMAR / BAY OF BENGAL, COX'S BAZAR, BANGLADESH / UNITED NATIONS
- City: SANTE FE, NEW MEXICO, UNITED STATES / NEAR MAUNGDAW, NORTH OF RAKHINE STATE + NAYPYITAW + YANGON, MYANMAR / BAY OF BENGAL, COX'S BAZAR, BANGLADESH / UNITED NATIONS
- Country: Various
- Topics: Asylum/Immigration/Refugees,Government/Politics
- Reuters ID: LVA00C7ZR3K93
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: EDITORS PLEASE NOTE: THIS EDIT CONTAINS MATERIAL WHICH WAS ORIGINALLY 4:3
Aung San Suu Kyi remains Myanmar's best hope for change, veteran U.S. mediator Bill Richardson said on Friday (January 26), days after he got into a fight with the Nobel laureate and quit an international panel advising her government on the Rohingya crisis.
"I resigned. They didn't fire me. In fact, they were begging me, the national security advisor, to stay on - desperately. So, this is their normal practice. Correct, they did not - I was pursuing my own agenda, which was against the agenda of the advisory board which was to whitewash everything," Richardson said in a satellite interview with Reuters.
Richardson said Suu Kyi - whom he described as a long-time friend - had developed a "siege mentality" in her position as Myanmar's State Counsellor, the country's civilian leader, but added that Western governments should continue to engage with her.
"Well, she was very angry with me when I raised releasing the journalists, giving them a fair trial.
She was upset when I said there should be an investigation of the mass graves issue, that they had to increase their international support for the treatment of the Rohingyas, the terrible refugee crisis.
She exploded. She was very unhappy, and it shows that she didn't want to hear frank advice. What's the reason? I think when you get power you go into a cocoon.
You go into an 'us against them' attitude. You find ways to avoid bad advice, and I think that's what has happened to her. I've known her for thirty years.
We've been friends. I've supported her, but now she's in a cocoon where she doesn't want to hear anything that is bad or frank advice," Richardson said.
Richardson said he resigned from the advisory board on Wednesday, during its first visit to troubled Rakhine State, saying it was conducting a "whitewash." Suu Kyi's office said on Thursday her government had asked Richardson to step down and accused him of pursuing "his own agenda."
Suu Kyi's government said on Friday it did not want to discuss the details of the exchange between Suu Kyi and Richardson any further.
Around 688,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled from Rakhine to Bangladesh in recent months to escape an army crackdown following insurgent attacks on security forces.
"I think the problem is she's unwilling to confront the military. She's unwilling to say to the military, 'stop these atrocities,' because she wants to get reelected, because she is afraid of them.
And that's a wrong moral position," said Richardson, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under President Bill Clinton who has also worked as a mediator with North Korea.
Richardson said he had informed the U.S. ambassador in Yangon and the State Department of his intention to resign but had not sought their guidance.
Richardson said that before his trip to Myanmar, he spoke to U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who visited the country in November. "He called me and gave me a briefing on his visit and that was all," he told Reuters in a separate television interview.
A State Department spokesman said he could not immediately confirm details of Richardson's contacts.
A statement on Thursday from the nine remaining members of the advisory board said they met this week "with open minds" and rejected Richardson's criticism that he feared the panel would be used as "a cheerleading squad."
Reporters Wa Lone, 31, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 27, had worked on Reuters coverage of the crisis in Rakhine.
Richardson said it was important for Western governments, the United Nations and Suu Kyi to enter into a new dialog "to try to help each other, not to keep fighting each other" before any thoughts of new sanctions on Myanmar.
"What we don't want is to have Aung San Suu Kyi just listen to ASEAN countries, China or Russia. They need engagement with the West. We're all former friends. She needs to change, and perhaps the West needs to give her another chance and not impose sanctions."
Myanmar's armed forces have been accused by Rohingya witnesses and human rights activists of carrying out killings, rapes and arson in Rakhine in a campaign senior officials in the United Nations and United States have described as ethnic cleansing.
Myanmar rejects that label and has denied nearly all the allegations.
Bangladesh and Myanmar agreed earlier this month to complete the voluntary repatriation of all the refugees. The remaining members of the advisory board on Wednesday toured temporary camps the government has set up for returnees.
Richardson said he did not believe conditions were yet right for the repatriation process to begin.
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