U.S. imposes sanctions on Myanmar military over Rohingya crackdown

Rohingya refugees, who crossed the border from Myanmar two days before, walk after they received permission from the Bangladeshi army to continue on to the refugee camps, in Palang Khali, near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh October 19, 2017. Reuters photographer Jorge Silva: "This picture was taken after a huge group of people crossed into Bangladesh and then had to wait three days and nights for the Bangladeshi Army's permission to continue walking into the makeshift camps. The line of people seemed endless. Long hours moving slowly across the embankments of the rice field. Mothers with babies and pregnant women, elderly people with illnesses, men carrying their entire life on their shoulders. They were safe from violence, but the challenge of surviving was still waiting for them on this side of the river." REUTERS/Jorge Silva/File Photo Rohingya refugees, who crossed the border from Myanmar two days before, walk after they received permission from the Bangladeshi army to continue on to the refugee camps, in Palang Khali, near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh October 19, 2017. Reuters photographer Jorge Silva: "This picture was taken after a huge group of people crossed into Bangladesh and then had to wait three days and nights for the Bangladeshi Army's permission to continue walking into the makeshift camps. The line of people seemed endless. Long hours moving slowly across the embankments of the rice field. Mothers with babies and pregnant women, elderly people with illnesses, men carrying their entire life on their shoulders. They were safe from violence, but the challenge of surviving was still waiting for them on this side of the river." REUTERS/Jorge Silva/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States on Friday imposed sanctions on four Myanmar military and police commanders and two army units for involvement in what it called “ethnic cleansing” and other human rights abuses against the country’s Rohingya Muslims, the Treasury Department said.

The sanctions marked the toughest U.S. action so far in response to Myanmar’s crackdown on the Rohingya minority which started last year and has driven more than 700,000 people into neighboring Bangladesh and left thousands of dead behind.

But the Trump administration did not target the highest levels of the Myanmar military and also stopped short of calling the anti-Rohingya campaign crimes against humanity or genocide, which has been the subject of debate within the U.S. government.

“Burmese security forces have engaged in violent campaigns against ethnic minority communities across Burma, including ethnic cleansing, massacres, sexual assault, extrajudicial killings, and other serious human rights abuses,” said Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, Sigal Mandelker, using an alternative name for Myanmar.

“Treasury is sanctioning units and leaders overseeing this horrific behavior as part of a broader U.S. government strategy to hold accountable those responsible for such wide-scale human suffering,” Mandelker said.

The sanctions targeted military commanders Aung Kyaw Zaw, Khin Maung Soe, Khin Hlaing, and border police commander Thura San Lwin, in addition to the 33rd and 99th Light Infantry Divisions, the Treasury said.

A Reuters special report in June gave a comprehensive account of the roles played by the two infantry divisions in the offensive against the Rohingya.

Myanmar’s military has denied accusations of ethnic cleansing and says its actions were part of a fight against terrorism.

(Reporting by Matt Spetalnick, Tim Ahmann and Makini Brice, David Brunnstrom; Editing by Bill Rigby)

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