YANGON : 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 governor and one-time Suu Kyi ally said he could not in “good conscience” serve on the committee.

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.

His resignation came after Myanmar and Bangladesh failed to meet a January 23 deadline to begin the complex and contested repatriation of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslim refugees.

Nearly 690,000 Rohingya have fled a Myanmar army crackdown and crossed over to Bangladesh in recent months.

The UN and US have both accused the army and hardline militant Buddhist mobs of ethnic cleansing against the Muslim minority.

Inside Myanmar the Rohingya are widely regarded as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh even though many have lived there for generations.

“It is with great disappointment that I announce my resignation from the Advisory Board on Rakhine State,” a statement released by Bill Richardson’s office said after three days of talks in Myanmar.

“It appears that the Board is likely to become a cheerleading squad for government policy as opposed to proposing genuine policy changes that are desperately needed to assure peace, stability, and development in Rakhine State.”

He said he was “taken aback” by the disparagement of the media, the UN, human rights groups and the international community and alarmed by the “lack of sincerity” with which the issue of Rohingya citizenship was discussed.

Rohingya have been denied citizenship for decades in a discriminatory system that heavily restricts their rights and movement within Myanmar.

The US former governor admitted that the military still wields significant power but added that “the absence of Daw Suu’s moral leadership on this critical issue is of great concern”.