By Matt Spetalnick
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged Myanmar’s government to take concrete steps to investigate human rights abuses against Rohingya Muslims and hold accountable members of its security forces and others for any involvement in those actions, a State Department official said on Friday.
Pompeo gave the message at a meeting with Myanmar government minister Kyaw Tint Swe on Thursday at the U.N. General Assembly in New York, after the recent release of U.S. and U.N. reports chronicling atrocities in the military crackdown last year, which sent almost 700,000 minority Rohingya Muslims fleeing to neighboring Bangladesh.
The State Department report issued earlier this week accused Myanmar’s military of waging a “well-planned and coordinated” campaign of mass killings and gang rapes but stopped short of describing it as genocide or crimes against humanity.
U.N. investigators issued a report in late August accusing Myanmar’s military of acting with “genocidal intent” and calling for the country’s commander-in-chief and five generals to be prosecuted under international law.
Pompeo “urged the government of Burma to take concrete steps to investigate the human rights abuses chronicled by the U.S. Documentation Report and UN Fact Finding Mission and to hold accountable members of the security forces and others responsible for these acts,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in Friday’s statement.
He also reiterated U.S. calls for Myanmar to immediately free two jailed Reuters reporters, according to a State Department summary of the meeting, which was seen by Reuters before its expected release on Friday.
The military in Myanmar, previously known as Burma, where Buddhism is the main religion, has denied accusations of ethnic cleansing and says its actions were part of a fight against terrorism.
Some U.S. lawmakers and human rights groups have pressed Pompeo to make a declaration of genocide to intensify pressure on Myanmar. While U.S. officials have not ruled this out in the future, some in the Trump administration are wary that it could have legal implications of committing Washington to stronger punitive measures against Myanmar.
In calling for the release of Reuters reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, Pompeo told Kyaw Tint Swe, minister of the office of the state counselor, that Myanmar must “strengthen and protect freedom of expression and the press.”
The two men were convicted on Sept. 3 under the colonial-era Official Secrets Act in a case seen as a test of democratic freedoms in Myanmar.
The reporters, who pleaded not guilty, had been investigating the killing of 10 Rohingya Muslim men and boys by security forces and local Buddhists amid the military response to insurgent attacks last August.
(Reporting By Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Alistair Bell)