US hopes Richardson's Myanmar mission can produce results

FILE - Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson emerges from his office in Santa Fe, N.M., Thursday, March 9, 2020. The veteran U.S. diplomat and former Governor Richardson is heading to Myanmar on a private humanitarian mission that will focus on pandemic support, his spokesperson said Sunday, Oct. 31, 2021. (AP Photo/Morgan Lee, File) (Morgan Lee, Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

WASHINGTON – The Biden administration said Monday it welcomes a private mission to Myanmar by former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson as a possible way to help speed humanitarian access to the country.

The State Department said Richardson was making the trip on his own but that it hoped he could help convince Myanmar’s leaders to allow in much needed aid for the coronavirus pandemic and other urgent needs.

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"Governor Richardson has extensive experience working on humanitarian issues," the department said. “While this is not an effort sponsored by, or on behalf of, the United States government, we hope his trip contributes to improved humanitarian access.”

“The humanitarian and health needs in Burma are extraordinary,” it said, using Myanmar's other name. “We continue to call on the military regime to cease its violence, release those unjustly detained, allow unimpeded humanitarian access, and ensure the safety of health and humanitarian workers.”

The former U.N. envoy and governor of New Mexico announced on Sunday he was heading to Myanmar on a visit that would focus on pandemic support. "In moments of crisis and instability such as this one, we must ensure that humanitarian aid is delivered to those most in need,” he said.

Myanmar has been mired in violence and civil unrest since a military coup seized power in February. Protesters have faced beatings and arrests. Since February, security forces have killed more than 1,200 people, including at least 131 detainees tortured to death.

Richardson said his center — The Richardson Center — has a long history of involvement in Myanmar, but did not mention the coup in his trip announcement or detail who he planned to meet with while there. U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres was aware of the mission, said Richardson spokesperson Madeleine Mahony.

Mahony declined to say whether Richardson would also be working for the release of American journalist Danny Fenster who has been jailed in Myanmar since May 24. Fenster was detained at Yangon International Airport as he was about to board a flight to the United States. He is the managing editor of Frontier Myanmar, an online magazine based in Yangon, Myanmar’s biggest city.

Fenster was charged with incitement — also known as sedition — for allegedly spreading false or inflammatory information. The offense is punishable by up to three years in prison.

Richardson last visited Myanmar in 2018 to advise on the Rohingya crisis. He ended up quitting an international panel set up to work on findings from a previous commission after armed forces were accused of carrying out rapes and killings of Rohingya Muslims in western Rakhine state. Myanmar has denied the allegations.

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