The United States on Wednesday joined the United Nations in condemning the Myanmar military operation against Rohingya Muslims as “ethnic cleansing.”
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson also threatened targeted sanctions against those responsible for what he described as “horrendous atrocities” in the southeast Asian country.
More than 600,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled Buddhist majority Myanmar and sought refuge in neighbouring Bangladesh since a military crackdown in August.
“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.
Although a top UN official in September described the military actions as a textbook case of “ethnic cleansing,” Tillerson had avoided the term on a visit to Myanmar, also known as Burma, last week.
His statement made clear the US stance has shifted.
“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 in Burma to seek refuge in Bangladesh,” he said.
Mass rape and executions
Human rights groups say Burmese military forces have burned down entire Rohingya villages, forcing people to flee or face mass rape and executions.
Myanmar’s government has repeatedly rejected claims it’s deliberately targeting civilians and says it’s fighting militants responsible for insurgent attacks.
Myanmar’s government, led by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, has faced heavy international criticism for its response to the crisis, though it has no control over the generals with whom it has to share power.
Pope Francis is due to touch down in Myanmar on Monday for a nearly week-long visit of the region, including a trip to Bangladesh.