By OLIVER SLOW | FRONTIER
YANGON — Members of the United States Congress have said that military operations in northern Rakhine State have “all the hallmarks of ethnic cleansing”, while warning the Myanmar government that the “world is watching” how it responds to the crisis.
“We are profoundly disturbed by the violent and disproportionate response against the Rohingya by the military and local groups,” said Mr Jeff Merkley, a Democratic Senator for Oregon, told reporters at a Yangon press conference on Tuesday afternoon.
“The root causes of this horrific situation are long-standing prejudices and discrimination, accentuated by poverty.”
Merkley was speaking at the end of a trip made by five US government officials, which included visits to Dhaka and Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, and Nay Pyi Taw and Sittwe in Myanmar.
“We appreciate that Aung San Suu Kyi made an invitation in her speech in September for foreign officials to visit the camps and the villages directly. We came halfway around the world in order to respond to that invitation,” Merkley said, adding that he was saddened that the delegation was denied permission to enter some camps and villages in Rakhine State.
He also urged the Myanmar government to implement the recommendations made by the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State to ensure full access for humanitarian organisations in northern Rakhine, to establish a path to citizenship for the Rohingya community and to work closely with the Bangladesh and the United Nations to establish conditions for the “voluntary and safe repatriation” of refugees from Bangladesh.
He also called on Myanmar to conduct a thorough investigation into security clearance operations.
“The world is watching,” how Myanmar’s government responds, he said.
Merkley was joined in the delegation by the Democratic Senator for Illinois Mr Dick Durbin, along with US Representatives Ms Betty McCollum (Democrat, Minnesota), Ms Jan Schakowsky (Democrat, Illinois) and Mr David Cicilline (Democrat, Rhode Island).
Cicilline said the delegation had heard allegations of “horrific atrocities” being carried out against refugees, and called on the government to show leadership in how it deals with the crisis.
“No democracy can function that doesn’t respect the dignity of every person, and the basic human rights of every individual. Nor can they tolerate institutions or individuals that violate the rights of individuals in horrific ways, without being held accountable,” he said.
The delegation’s visit came a week after US Secretary of State Mr Rex Tillerson visited Myanmar, where he ruled out broad based sanctions against Myanmar for its handling of the crisis, but raised the possibility of targeted sanctions against those found responsible for human rights abuses.
On Tuesday, Merkley said the delegation would return to Washington to participate in about a dialogue about how the US would deal with the issue.
“Certainly there are proposals to restore sanctions, and we’ll be looking at those very closely,” he said.