Veteran US diplomat Bill Richardson has quit an worldwide panel set up by Myanmar's de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi to advise on the Rohingya refugee crisis, calling it a "cheerleading squad for government policy" that fails to address the problem.
The Advisory Board on Rakhine State was set up to implement recommendations regarding the Rohingya, Myanmar's brutally persecuted minority group, that were made by an advisory commission in 2017 - a commission led by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annon.
Myanmar nationals Wa Lone, 31, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 27, face a possible 14 years in prison under the Official Secrets Act for allegedly possessing classified documents that they say were given to them by two policemen.
"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.
"Freedom of the press to report the facts is a fundamental bedrock of democracy", he added.
Richardson in his statement also questioned the commitment of advisory board chairman Surakiart Sathirathai, a former deputy prime minister of Thailand, in implementing the recommendations on Rakhine state issued by an earlier panel chaired by former United Nations chief Kofi Annan.
Myanmar says it's ready for a gradual repatriation of Muslim Rohingya refugees chased out by the Buddhist-majority country's military. Some 700,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar to neighboring Bangladesh since August, when the military launched operations that the United States has described as "ethnic cleansing".
She said that many Rohingyas are afraid of going back to Myanmar.
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Mr. Richardson said he had been "very shocked" by how Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi and other board members had disparaged human rights groups, the United Nations and global media organizations over how the Rohingya disaster had been presented to the world. "The only thing is to put more pressure on Myanmar", EU Head of Delegation Ambassador Rensje Teerink told UNB in an interview. She said most of the world wants the Rohingya crisis resolved peacefully, and suggested Russia's actions would instead fuel more suffering and instability.
"We need time because we want to ensure that all the same family members or people from the same village can leave together for Myanmar".
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert called Mr. Richardson's decision to resign from the board and his reasons for doing so "cause for concern", but noted he had been acting as a private citizen in joining the board and visiting Myanmar, which is also known as Burma.
While the commission's report did not go so far as current United Nations officials, who have said the situation in Myanmar represents a "textbook case of ethnic cleansing", it did criticize the military and call on the government to take urgent concerted action.
Many Rohingya want to return eventually to their villages in Burma, Unicef deputy executive director Justin Forsyth said during a visit to the enormous Kutupalong refugee camp.
But on his visit this week, Richardson said he was "taken aback by the vigor" with which Myanmar government officials blamed global actors for the crisis, as well as the government's "lack of sincerity" on the issue of Rohingya citizenship.
In 1982, almost all Rohingya were stripped of their citizenship rights.
The official said Bangladesh has not yet handed over a list of 100,000 refugees as agreed but instead is preparing a list of all 770,000 refugees to be repatriated.