U.S. former diplomat Richardson meets Myanmar junta chief

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FILE PHOTO: Myanmar junta chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing

– Former U.S. ambassador Bill Richardson held talks with Myanmar junta leader Min Aung Hlaing on Tuesday on the COVID-19 situation in the country, state media said, a rare meeting for a military chief who has faced diplomatic isolation since he launched a coup in February.

State-run MRTV showed Richardson greeting Min Aung Hlaing with a fist bump before sitting down for talks in a diplomatic guest office in Naypyidaw.

Myanmar has been in turmoil since the military chief seized power from a civilian government following elections that were won by Aung San Suu Kyi’s ruling party but that the military said had been fraudulent.

Thousands have been detained, many more have left the country and insurgencies have flared in border regions.

MRTV said Min Aung Hlaing and Richardson talked about COVID-19 control and treatment, school openings and assistance from the United States for vaccinations.

Ahead of his trip, Richardson said his was a humanitarian mission.

“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.

U.S. President Joe Biden last month joined Southeast Asian leaders in rebuking Myanmar’s junta at a regional summit which excluded Min Aung Hlaing from the conference.

On Sunday, the U.S. State Department said it was concerned the military was stepping up operations in parts of Myanmar, including Chin state, where it said more than 100 homes and churches had been destroyed in the offensive.

Richardson was earlier on an international panel set up by Myanmar to advise on the Rohingya crisis but he resigned in 2018, saying it was conducting a “whitewash” and accusing the country’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi of lacking “moral leadership.”

(Reporting by Reuters Staff; Writing by Sanjeev Miglani; Editing by Mark Porter)