BANGKOK – An advisory board chaired by Thai former foreign minister Dr. Surakiart Sathirathai has lashed out at the recently resigned American member, Bill Richardson, saying his accusation that the board was “whitewashing” or “cheer-leading” Aung San Suu Kyi over the Royingya crisis completely lacked legitimacy.
Dr. Surakiart, 59, was chosen last year by State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to head a 10-member board that will advise on how to implement the recommendations of an earlier commission headed by former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan.
In a statement late on Thursday, the board said Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who is a long-time friend of Aung San Suu Kyi, had to be asked to leave the body.
“The board feels that constructive and positive work can be done to help bring peace, reconciliation and economic progress for all communities in the Rakhine State,” the statement said.
Richardson quit the board as he was incensed over the suppression of press freedom in Myanmar, among other issues. He accused Aung San Suu Kyi of lacking the sincerity and moral leadership to tackle the crisis.
Richardson, a former governor of the US state of New Mexico and former US Ambassador to the United Nations, was one of five members who agreed to join the Advisory Board on the Implementation of Recommendations on Rakhine State last year.
He publicly expressed concern that Surakiart was not “genuinely committed” to implementing the recommendations made last August, just as the current crisis erupted, by the Rakhine Advisory Commission led by former United Nations chief Kofi Annan.
Nor did Richardson feel Surakiart was committed to addressing the root causes of the conflict in Rakhine.
Surakiart “parroted the dangerous and untrue notion that international NGOs employ radicals and that the humanitarian agencies are providing material support to ARSA,” he said, referring to the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, a militant group that launched attacks on Myanmar security outposts last summer.
The attack ignited the exodus of over 640,000 refugees from Rakhine State to Bangladesh as well as atrocities against the displaced persons. Nay Pyi Taw and Dhaka agreed to repatriate them within two years. The process was supposed to begin on Tuesday but has been delayed due to the Rohingya refusing to return unless their human rights are recognized and with NGOs and the UN reporting ongoing burning of Rohingya villages along with killings and rape.
In the statement, the board said it intended to engage in an open dialogue with all relevant stakeholders, although it recognised that it is not an investigatory body. “Its aim is to develop mutual trust and respect and to demonstrate our desire to understand the hopes, fears, and aspirations of the people of Rakhine and of Myanmar,” it said.
Reacting to Richardson’s statement, it said the advisory board members met together with open minds, to listen to all perspectives, and to learn, in order to formulate their collective views.
“We agreed to speak with one voice, and to provide our preliminary recommendations to the implementation committee in the next few months. It was the first time we had met in Myanmar. We had not yet agreed to submit any advice to the implementation committee. Therefore, any statement about the board ‘whitewashing’ or ‘cheerleading’ for anyone lacks complete legitimacy.”
The Myanmar State Counsellor’s Office said in a statement that Richardson was pursuing his own agenda and had exceeded the mandate of the Advisory Board on Rakhine State.
The statement said that during the initial two-day meeting of the 10-member body that started on Monday, “it became evident that the intent of Governor Bill Richardson…was not to provide advice based on the recommendations of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State chaired by Dr Kofi Annan but to pursue his own agenda.”
“The government decided that his continued participation on the board would not be in the best interest of all concerned,” the statement said.