Bill Richardson resigns from Rohingya refugee panel

Phillip Cunningham
January 27, 2018

On Monday, Richardson met with Myanmar's de-facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi to discuss both the detained journalists as well as the plan to repatriate hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslim refugees who had fled the country past year following a military crackdown. 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."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.

Bill Richardson, a former New Mexico governor and cabinet member under U.S. president Bill Clinton, said he could no longer "in good conscience" serve in his role on a panel advising the Myanmar government on its response to the crisis.

The advisory board on Rakhine state was created in 2017 to help the government implement the recommendations of a fact-finding commission helmed by former UN Secretary-Genera Kofi Annan. "But violence is still continuing", Unicef Deputy Executive Director Justin Forsyth told reporters in a hotel in Dhaka last evening.

"Ultimately, the Burmese government and military have the authority to determine whether the Advisory Board will succeed in its mission".

Though this deadline has been on the horizon since the deal was first broached back in November, Bangladesh has yet to confirm when the process to resettle the Rohingya refugees will actually begin.

In October, the US restricted what limited non-weapons assistance it provides to Myanmar's military and its leaders, specifically cutting off those involved in the violence in northern Rakhine state — ground zero for the Rohingya crisis.


The UN and U.S. have both accused the army and hardline militant Buddhist mobs of ethnic cleansing against the Muslim minority. They are widely dismissed as having migrated illegally from Bangladesh and are denied some of the most basic rights, including the freedom of movement.

"He needs to understand clearly that he is supposed to give advice only about the Rakhine issue, not everything about Myanmar", he said.

Grandi went on to list several essential details that have yet to be discussed ahead of the repatriation, including the issue of citizenship, the rights of the Rohingya people in Rakhine State and access to services.

Bangladesh has said the refugees will all be returned to Myanmar within two years. "Without all these assurances, we don't want to go back", said Muhammad Saker, 20, a refugee from Balukhali camp who fled to Bangladesh from Buthidaung, Rakhine, in December 2016. But officials in Bangladesh said on Monday that a number of issues remained unresolved, in particular fears that refugees were being forced to return.

Rohingya refugee Momtaz Begum, 30, said soldiers came to her village, beat her, locked her in her house and set the roof on fire.

An intergovernmental agreement on a streamlined entry for warships in Russia's and Myanmar's ports was also signed during the visit.

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