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.
He said Suu Kyi's response was "furious," saying the case of the reporters "was not part of the work of the advisory board." The argument continued at a dinner later that evening, the former New Mexico governor said.
Suu Kyi's spokesman, Zaw Htay, told Reuters on Thursday that the Advisory Board was meeting about the "Rakhine issue."
"(Richardson) talked on a topic outside the agenda of the meetings and went beyond the framework," Zaw Htay said. "We feel sorry for his resignation due to the misunderstanding." Reporters Wa Lone, 31, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 27, had worked on Reuters coverage of the crisis in Rakhine, from where 688,000 Rohingya have fled an army crackdown on insurgents since late August, according to estimates by the United Nations.
They were detained on Dec. 12 after they had been invited to meet police officers over dinner in Yangon. The government has cited police as saying they were arrested for possessing secret documents relating to the security situation in Rakhine.