Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi is “isolated” and living in a “bubble”, says US diplomat and politician Bill Richardson, who just this past week resigned from an international panel advising her government on the Rohingya refugee crisis.
The former New Mexico governor said Ms Suu Kyi, whom he called a long-time friend, had developed a “siege mentality” in her position as Myanmar’s civilian leader, but added that Western governments should continue to engage with her.
“The relationship with the West, with human rights groups, with the United Nations, with the international media is terrible,” he told Reuters.
“And I think Aung San Suu Kyi has brought this upon herself, the constant disparagement of the international community, which I think can be helpful to her ... She seems isolated. She doesn’t travel much into the country. I think she’s developed a classic bubble.”
While on a visit to Myanmar, Mr Richardson suddenly resigned from the advisory board, calling it a “whitewash and a cheerleading operation” for Ms Suu Kyi.
Ms Suu Kyi’s office said on Thursday that her government had asked Mr Richardson to step down and accused him of pursuing “his own agenda”.
US and UN officials have described actions carried out by Myanmar’s military against the stateless Rohingya as “ethnic cleansing”.
The government in mostly Buddhist Burma views the Rohingya as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
“I think the Myanmar military is to blame a lot and the only person that can turn them around, I believe, is Aung San Suu Kyi, and she should start doing that,” Mr Richardson said.
Mr Richardson served as a US ambassador to the UN under former President Bill Clinton during the 1990s.
Around 688,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled from Rakhine to Bangladesh in recent months to escape an army crackdown.
Though Ms Suu Kyi – once regarded as a democracy icon - is the de facto head of Myanmar’s civilian government, she is constitutionally limited in her control of the country and the military is in charge of the operations in Rakhine.
Still, she has faced widespread international criticism for not speaking out in defence of the Rohingya and for expressing doubts about allegations of human rights abuses.
Mr Richardson said it was important for Western governments, the United Nations and Ms Suu Kyi to enter into a new dialogue “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,” he added. “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.”
(c) 2018 The Independant