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Rohingya Muslims

US threatens sanctions, targets Myanmar’s military for role in brutal Rohingya crackdown

It marked the strongest US response so far to the months-long Rohingya crisis

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 24 October, 2017, 11:14am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 24 October, 2017, 8:59pm

The United States said it was considering targeted sanctions against Myanmar as it took steps to withdraw help from military units and officers involved in violence against Rohingya Muslims that has triggered a massive exodus.

“We express our gravest concern with recent events in Rakhine state and the violent, traumatic abuses Rohingya and other communities have endured,” US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in announcing the punitive measures Monday.

“It is imperative that any individuals or entities responsible for atrocities, including non-state actors and vigilantes, be held accountable.”

A US State Department statement added: “We are exploring accountability mechanisms available under US law, including Global Magnitsky targeted sanctions.”

The Magnitsky Act, originally passed in 2012, imposed visa bans and asset freezes on Russian officials linked to the 2009 death in prison of Sergei Magnitsky, a 37-year-old Russian whistle-blower.

It has since been expanded to become the Global Magnitsky Act, which could be used against the generals in Myanmar.

Watch: what’s driving Myanmar’s Rohingya crisis?

Last week, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the US holds Myanmar’s military leadership “accountable” for the Rohingya refugee crisis, drawing a distinction with Aung San Suu Kyi’s civilian government.

The world won’t stand and “be witness to the atrocities that have been reported,” he warned, adding that the military must be disciplined and “restrained”.

More than 600,000 members of the minority Muslim group have fled across the border into Bangladesh in an intensifying crisis that began in late August.

Militant attacks on Myanmar security forces in Rakhine sparked a major army crackdown on the community likened to ethnic cleansing by the UN.

Washington already had existing restrictions on its limited engagement with Myanmar’s armed forces, as well as a long-running embargo on all military sales, so the withdrawal of military aid served to reinforce that position.

In addition, the US State Department said it has halted its consideration of travel waivers for senior Myanmar military leaders, and is weighing targeted economic measures against individuals linked to the “atrocities,” along with targeted sanctions.

The US has also rescinded invitations to senior members of Myanmar’s security forces to US-sponsored events and was pressing for “unhindered access” to the affected areas for a United Nations fact-finding mission, international organisations and the media.

It marked the strongest US response so far to the months-long Rohingya crisis but came short of applying the most drastic tools at Washington’s disposal such as reimposing broader economic sanctions suspended under the Obama administration.

Washington has worked hard to establish close ties with Myanmar’s civilian-led government led by Suu Kyi in the face of competition from strategic rival China.

But 43 US lawmakers have urged the Trump administration to reimpose US travel bans on Myanmar’s military leaders and prepare targeted sanctions against those responsible for the crackdown.

Rohingyas have been systematically deprived of basic rights over decades in majority Buddhist Myanmar.

In the latest crackdown, Myanmar’s security forces have fired indiscriminately on unarmed civilians, including children, and committed widespread sexual violence, according to UN investigators.

Agence France-Presse and Reuters