Dhaka, Bangladesh
US lawmakers discuss sanctions on Myanmar

US lawmakers discuss sanctions on Myanmar

Sanctions on Myanmar and withholding of US aid are among options for pressing that country's government to stop attacks on Rohingya Muslims, US officials said on Thursday, adding that they must be careful to avoid worsening the crisis, reports Reuters. "We don't want to take actions that exacerbate their suffering. There is that risk in this complicated environment," Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Patrick Murphy told a US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee hearing. Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims have fled Myanmar's Rakhine state since security forces responded to Rohingya militants' attacks on Aug 25 by launching a crackdown the United Nations has denounced as ethnic cleansing. Myanmar rejects that accusation, insisting action was needed to combat "terrorists" who killed civilians. But it has left the world community counting the cost as international organizations and the government of Bangladesh, which has taken in the vast majority of the refugees, race to provide food, water and medical care. Many US lawmakers have clamored for a strong US response to the crisis and criticized government leader Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel peace laureate once hugely popular in Washington, for failing to do more. Representative Ed Royce, the Foreign Affairs committee's Republican chairman, said her recent statement denying that the military had conducted "clearance operations" was "factually false" and said she should speak out. "Those responsible for these atrocities must face justice. She and the military generals must rise to this challenge. This is ethnic cleansing," Royce said. Representative Eliot Engel, the committee's top Democrat, was one of several committee members who said Washington should reconsider its decision to ease sanctions on the country and military. In particular, they called on Myanmar to allow international inspectors access to Rakhine State. "We're sitting here in our white shirts and our suits and these people are being slaughtered and thrown out of their country," Republican Representative Scott Perry said. "Somebody needs to take action," he added. Murphy said efforts were under way to identify individuals responsible for rights violation. Representative Ted Yoho, chairman of the panel's Asia subcommittee, asked if it would be effective to suspend aid to Myanmar's government until they allowed UN inspectors into Rakhine state. Kate Somvongsiri, a witness from the US Agency for International Development, said that would be considered. "With the gravity of the situation, we obviously need to look at all the possible tools of leverage on the table," she said. AP adds: Myanmar's military crackdown that has caused a half-million Rohingya Muslims to flee to Bangladesh could destabilize the region and invite international terrorists, the State Department said Thursday. But Patrick Murphy, a senior U.S. official for Southeast Asia, would not say whether the Trump administration would impose targeted sanctions against Myanmar's military. Addressing the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Murphy said security forces were to blame for a "disproportionate response" to Rohingya insurgent attacks six weeks ago. He equivocated on whether it amounted to ethnic cleansing, preferring instead to describe the situation as a "human tragedy." That drew objections from lawmakers. "We identify this as full-fledged ethnic cleansing," said Rep. Ed Royce, the Republican committee chairman. Senior U.N. officials have used similar language. Murphy said that in addition to the half-million who have fled to Bangladesh, an estimated 200,000 people have been internally displaced in Myanmar's strife-hit Rakhine State. Despite government assurances that security operations halted a month ago, vigilantes are still reportedly committing arson attacks on Rohingya homes and blocking humanitarian assistance, he said. "Burma's nascent democracy is at a turning point and a heavy-handed response invites international terrorists and challenges for other neighbors," Murphy said, referring to the alternative name for Myanmar, where long-standing sectarian tensions between majority Buddhists and the Rohingya have spiraled as the country has opened up. He said the U.S. has discussed the situation with other countries in Southeast Asia - where the Philippines, and Muslim-majority nations like Malaysia and Indonesia, have grappled with terrorist attacks and extremist violence. Rep. Eliot Engel, the committee's top-ranking Democrat, said the U.S. should consider sanctions on Myanmar's military leadership and businesses that were lifted by the Obama administration to reward Myanmar's shift to democracy after five decades of direct military rule. A weak civilian government took power last year.

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