US holds Tatmadaw leaders responsible for Rakhine crisis, says Tillerson

The United States holds Myanmar’s military leadership responsible for the Rakhine crisis, US Secretary of State Mr Rex Tillerson said in Washington on October 18.

“We really hold the military leadership accountable for what’s happening,” Tillerson said in a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

However, he did not say if the US would reimpose sanctions on Myanmar over the Tatmadaw operation in northern Rakhine State that has resulted in more than 580,000 Rohingya Muslims fleeing to Bangladesh since late August.

The US was “extraordinarily concerned” by the situation, Tillerson said.

“The world can’t just stand idly by and be witness to the atrocities that are being reported in the area,” he said.

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Referring to the attacks by Muslim extremists that triggered the security operation, Tillerson said he understood that Myanmar had a problem with militant groups, but the military had to be disciplined and restrained in its response.

The authorities needed to allow access to northern Rakhine “so we can get a full accounting of the circumstances,” the top US diplomat said.

“Someone, if these reports are true, is going to be held to account for that,” Tillerson said. “And it’s up to the military leadership of Burma to decide, ‘What direction do they want to play in the future of Burma?’”

Tillerson said Washington saw Myanmar as “an important emerging democracy”, but the Rohingya crisis was a test of what he called its “power-sharing government”.

Tillerson’s comments came hours after 43 Republican and Democratic lawmakers urged the Trump administration to reimpose US travel bans on Tatmadaw leaders and prepare targeted sanctions against those responsible for human rights abuses in Rakhine.

The authorities in Myanmar “appear to be in denial of what has happened”, the lawmakers said in a letter to Tillerson.

“We urge you to do everything possible to ensure protection and security for those trapped inside Burma or willing to return, as well as oppose forcible returns from neighbouring countries,” they said.

The European Union has already sanctioned the Tatmadaw over what it has called the “disproportionate use of force” by the security forces in northern Rakhine.

In a statement on Monday, it said it was suspending invitations to the Tatmadaw commander-in-chief and other senior officers and reviewing all practical defence cooperation.

The EU said it would consider extra measures if the situation did not improve but also stood ready “to respond accordingly to positive developments”.

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