US calls Rakhine security operation ‘ethnic cleansing’


YANGON — The “horrendous atrocities” in northern Rakhine State constitute “ethnic cleansing”, United States Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Wednesday, as he vowed to hold those responsible “accountable”.

“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.

“Those responsible for these atrocities must be held accountable. The United States continues to support a credible, independent investigation to further determine all facts on the ground.”

Tillerson blamed “some among the Burmese military, security forces, and local vigilantes” for the violence, but also expressed support for the government’s moves to repatriate those who have fled to Bangladesh.

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The statement was released a week after Tillerson visited Myanmar and met State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and Senior General Min Aung Hlaing.

In a joint press conference with Aung San Suu Kyi, Tillerson did not rule out individual sanctions targeting those found responsible for human rights abuses in northern Rakhine State.

Tillerson said in the statement that the US would pursue accountability through US law, “including possible targeted sanctions”.

“Burma’s response to this crisis is vital to determining the success of its transition to a more democratic society. 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 statement said.

Tillerson reiterated earlier condemnation from the US government of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army attacks on 30 police outposts and a military battalion headquarters in late August.

The offensive claimed the lives of a dozen security personnel and provided the spark for clearance operations that caused more than 600,000 people – overwhelmingly Muslims who identify as Rohingya – to flee across the border into Bangladesh.

“[No] provocation can justify the horrendous atrocities that have ensued,” the statement said. “These abuses … have caused tremendous suffering.”

By Oliver Slow

By Oliver Slow

Oliver Slow is a Southeast Asia-based journalist. He is a former Chief-of-Staff at Frontier, and is writing a book about Myanmar's transition.
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