US diplomat Bill Richardson resigned early Thursday from an Aung San Suu Kyi-appointed panel set up to ease communal tensions in Myanmar's Rakhine State and hit out at the Nobel Laureate for an "absence of moral leadership" over the crisis.
In a statement that pulled few punches, the former US governor and one-time Suu Kyi ally said he could not in "good conscience" serve on the committee that would likely serve only to "whitewash" the causes behind the Rohingya exodus.
Richardson also accused Suu Kyi of a "furious response" to his calls to help free two Reuters journalists arrested while reporting on the Rakhine crisis.
Wa Lone, 31, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 27, were arrested in December and face up to 14 years in jail under the Official Secrets Act over the alleged possession of classified documents, purportedly relating to the army campaign in Rakhine that sparked the exodus.
The resignation deals an embarrassing public blow to Suu Kyi as her civilian government grapples with a crisis that has sent hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslim refugees fleeing into Bangladesh since August -- and eviscerated her reputation as a defender of the downtrodden in the process.
The US State Department noted that Richardson, a retired senior official and former state governor, had joined the Myanmar board as a private citizen, but added that the Washington administration shares many of his concerns.
"Governor Richardson's decision to resign from the Rakhine Advisory Board, and the reasons he gave for doing so, are cause for concern," spokeswoman Heather Nauert said.
Nauert said the board which Richardson joined was supposed to oversee implementation of recommendations made by a commission led by former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan.
"The recommendations address critical actions needed to address longstanding, serious challenges in Rakhine State, including the underlying sources of recent violence and displacement," Nauert said.
"Ultimately, the Burmese government and military have the authority to determine whether the Advisory Board will succeed in its mission."
Richardson's resignation also came after Myanmar and Bangladesh failed to meet a January 23 deadline to begin the complex and contested repatriation of refugees.