US considers sanctions over treatment of Rohingya

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US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson comes down from his plane. AFP

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States is taking steps and considering a range of further actions over Myanmar’s treatment of its Rohingya Muslim minority, including targeted sanctions under its Global Magnitsky law, the State Department said on Monday.

“We express our gravest concern with recent events in Myanmar’s Rakhine state and the violent, traumatic abuses Rohingya and other communities have endured,” it said in a statement. It added: “It is imperative that any individuals or entities responsible for atrocities, including non-state actors and vigilantes, be held accountable.”

Rohingya Muslims have fled Myanmar in large numbers since late August when Rohingya insurgent attacks sparked a ferocious military response, with the fleeing people accusing security forces of arson, killings and rape.

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Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Wednesday the US held Myanmar’s military leadership responsible for its crackdown on the Rohingya Muslim minority. He stopped short of saying whether the US would take any action against Myanmar’s military leaders.

The State Department made the announcement ahead of US President Donald Trump’s maiden visit to the region early next month.

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.

The State Department said on Monday: “We are exploring accountability mechanisms available under US law, including Global Magnitsky targeted sanctions.”

Measures already taken include ending travel waivers for current and former members of the military in Myanmar and barring units and officers in northern Rakhine state from US assistance, it said.

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“We have rescinded invitations for senior Burmese security forces to attend US-sponsored events; we are working with international partners to urge that Burma enables unhindered access to relevant areas for the United Nations Fact-Finding Mission, international humanitarian organisations, and media,” the statement said.

In addition, Washington is “consulting with allies and partners on accountability options at the UN, the UN Human Rights Council, and other appropriate venues”, it said.

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