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US condemns 'ethnic cleansing' of Myanmar's Rohingya Muslim minority

More than 600,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled to Bangladesh since August. [Getty]

Date of publication: 23 November, 2017

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The US on Wednesday hardened its stance on Myanmar, accusing the country's security forces of perpetrating "horrendous atrocities" against the Rohingya that amount to "ethnic cleansing" of the Muslim minority.

The United States on Wednesday hardened its stance on Myanmar, accusing the country's security forces of perpetrating "horrendous atrocities" against the Rohingya that amount to "ethnic cleansing" of the Muslim minority.

The statement from US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is the strongest US condemnation to date of the military crackdown against the Rohingya minority, which has forced more than 600,000 to flee the country since August.

Scenes of dispossessed Rohingya fleeing en-masse as their villages in Rakhine State burn behind them have provoked outrage around the world.

There have been chilling and consistent accounts of widespread murder, rape and arson at the hands of Myanmar's security forces.

"After a careful and thorough analysis of available facts, it is clear that the situation in northern Rakhine state constitutes ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya," Tillerson said in a statement.

"No provocation can justify the horrendous atrocities that have ensued."

After a careful and thorough analysis of available facts, it is clear that the situation in northern Rakhine state constitutes ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya
-Rex Tillerson

Myanmar's military alleges that Rohingya militants attacked army bases in the region, but fleeing refugees have described a campaign of killings, shelling, looting and arson in Rohingya villages which has almost exclusively targeted civilians.

"These abuses by some among the Burmese military, security forces, and local vigilantes have caused tremendous suffering and forced hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children to flee their homes," Tillerson said.

Myanmar's response to the crisis will be vital to determining the success of its transition to becoming "a more democratic society," he added.

Myanmar's de facto civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi - a Nobel peace laureate - has been criticised by rights groups disappointed with her failure to condemn the crackdown or publicly criticize the military.

Over 214 Rohingya villages have been destroyed by Myanmar's military in Rakhine State

Washington says Suu Kyi has a crucial role to play in tackling the crisis but has been careful to focus blame on the army.

On his one-day visit to Myanmar's capital Naypyidaw last week Tillerson said Washington was "deeply concerned by credible reports of widespread atrocities committed by Myanmar's security forces and vigilantes".

He urged Myanmar to accept an independent investigation into those allegations, after which individual sanctions could be appropriate.

On Wednesday, Tillerson said: "Burma's government and security forces must respect the human rights of all persons within its borders, and hold accountable those who fail to do so".

The current administration says it does not favour a return to broad economic sanctions on Myanmar, which had been eased under former US president Barack Obama.

But a senior State Department official told reporters on Wednesday: "We are looking at additional sanctions targeting individuals responsible for specific acts of violence".

Global human rights watchdogs over the past week issued reports accusing Myanmar security forces of slitting the throats of Rohingya, burning victims alive and gang-raping women and girls.

The watchdogs described "mounting evidence" of genocide and spoke of "ethnic cleansing" founded on years of "apartheid".

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