Former US diplomat Bill Richardson meets with Burmese leader

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BANGKOK (AP) – Former US Ambassador to the UN Bill Richardson, on a humanitarian mission in conflict-torn Myanmar, met with the South Asian nation’s military leader on Tuesday. East.

Myanmar’s Information Ministry said Richardson had held discussions with Senior General Min Aung Hlaing over the prevention and control of COVID-19. The ministers of Foreign Affairs, Health and International Cooperation were also present, he said. The meeting was broadcast on the evening news broadcast on state television MRTV.

Richardson’s mission was announced Sunday by his office, which quoted him as saying he “is visiting the country to discuss routes for humanitarian delivery of COVID-19 vaccines, medical supplies and other public health needs “.

However, his mission also raised hopes that Richardson will seek the release of American journalist Danny Fenster, imprisoned in Myanmar for five months.

Myanmar’s health system is largely broken amid widespread resistance to the military ousting in February of the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi. Medical personnel have been at the forefront of opposition to the military regime.

The situation is exacerbated by poverty in Myanmar and the increasingly fierce fighting between the government and pro-democracy insurgents in various parts of the country.

“Governor Richardson believes that in times of crisis and instability like this, we must ensure that humanitarian aid is delivered to those who need it most,” his office said in a statement. .

Detained reporter Fenster, originally from the greater Detroit area, is charged with incitement for allegedly spreading false or inflammatory information. The offense carries a penalty of up to three years in prison.

Fenster, editor of the Yangon-based online news magazine Frontier Myanmar, is also charged with association with illegal associations, punishable by two to three years in prison. The US government and media freedom organizations have pushed for his release, along with that of other journalists detained since the military took power.

The State Department said Richardson is making the trip on his own, but hopes he can help convince Myanmar’s leaders to allow the entry of aid for the coronavirus pandemic and other urgent needs. The US government, like other Western countries, has avoided sending officials to Myanmar because it does not want to be seen as recognizing the legitimacy of the military seizure of power.

“While not an effort sponsored by or on behalf of the United States government, we hope his trip will help improve humanitarian access,” he said in a statement Monday. .

Richardson, who also served as governor of New Mexico and secretary of energy in the Clinton administration, has a habit of acting like a sort of independent diplomat.

He is best known for traveling to countries with which Washington has poor or non-existent relations, such as North Korea, in order to secure the freedom of American detainees.

Recently, he was involved in the search for freedom for US citizens detained in Venezuela, another country with which Washington has strained ties.

Richardson has a long history of involvement with Myanmar, since 1994 when as a congressman he met Suu Kyi at her home, where she had been under house arrest since 1989 under a previous military government.

He last visited Myanmar in 2018 to advise on the crisis involving the country’s Rohingya Muslim minority. More than 700,000 Rohingya fled to refugee camps in Bangladesh after the Burmese military launched a brutal counterinsurgency campaign in 2017 in western Rakhine state, where most lived.

The crackdown included rapes, murders and the burning of thousands of homes, and has been labeled ethnic cleansing by global rights groups and the UN.

Richardson accepted Suu Kyi’s invitation to join a crisis advisory board, but then resigned, calling it a “money laundering and cheerleading operation” for Suu Kyi after an argument with her.

In response to the military takeover this year, he urged the Biden administration and the international community to strongly condemn the “undemocratic” coup and “impose crushing international sanctions as soon as possible.”

But while calling for Suu Kyi’s safety, he also described her as “an accomplice in the atrocities committed by the Burmese army against the Rohingya and other ethnic minorities”.

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