Former U.S. ambassador and former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson is heading to Myanmar on a private humanitarian mission that will focus on pandemic support, his spokesperson said Sunday.
Myanmar has been mired in violence and civil unrest since a military coup seized power in February. Protesters have faced beatings and arrests. The United States suspended a trade deal with Myanmar until a democratic government is restored in the Southeast Asian country.
Richardson said his center has a long history of supporting the people of Myanmar, but he didn't mention the coup in his trip announcement or detail who he planned to meet with while there.
“In coordination with our contacts in Myanmar, we are visiting the country to discuss pathways for the humanitarian delivery of COVID-19 vaccines, medical supplies, and other public health needs," he said in a news release.
U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres was aware of the mission, said Richardson spokesperson Madeleine Mahony.
The U.S. State Department did not immediately comment on the trip.
Mahony declined to say whether Richardson would also be working for the release of an American journalist who has been jailed since May 24.
Danny 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 Rohingyas.
Myanmar has denied the allegations.
He has made trips to Bangladesh to visit Rohingya refugee camps. The Richardson Center has supported the distribution of personal protection equipment to Rohingya refugees following the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
Richardson's official statement on this latest trip also focused on public health. Richardson believes, his statement said, that “in moments of crisis and instability such as this one, we must ensure that humanitarian aid is delivered to those most in need.”
Joining the governor on the trip were Cameron Hume, former U.S. ambassador to Indonesia, South Africa and Algeria; and two officials from the Richardson Center.
Martha Bellisle (), The Associated Press