US imposes sanctions on Myanmar military over Rohingya crackdown

Move marks toughest American action so far in response to treatment of minority

Rohingya refugees who fled from Myanmar wait in a rice field to be let through after after crossing the border in Palang Khali, Bangladesh, in October  2017. Photograph: Damir Sagolj/Reuters/File

Rohingya refugees who fled from Myanmar wait in a rice field to be let through after after crossing the border in Palang Khali, Bangladesh, in October 2017. Photograph: Damir Sagolj/Reuters/File

 

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 US 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 neighbouring 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 US government.

The measures were announced as secretary of state Mike Pompeo, according to US officials, prepares to release the findings of an intensive US investigation of alleged atrocities by Myanmar authorities against the Rohingya.

Violent campaigns

The release of the report, compiled from interviews with refugees in Bangladesh, is expected to be around the August 25th one-year anniversary of the bloody crackdown.

“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 undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, Sigal Mandelker, using an alternative name for Myanmar.

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

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

The measures call for freezes of any US assets the individuals hold as well as bans on travel to the United States.

The military in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, also known as Burma, has denied accusations of ethnic cleansing and says its actions were part of a fight against terrorism.

Myanmar’s embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

‘Overdue step’

Critics have accused President Donald Trump of being slow in his response to the Rohingya crisis. Human rights groups noted that while Friday’s sanctions list included generals, Myanmar’s powerful army chief, Min Aung Hlaing, was spared.

“The imposition of these targeted sanctions against key Burmese commanders responsible for atrocities against the Rohingya is an important but long overdue step,” said Rich Weir, Myanmar researcher at Human Rights Watch.

“The avoidance of the top military leaders is striking,” he said. “The likelihood that they did not know what was happening is close to infinitesimal.”

In the treasury statement, Md Mandelker said: “The US government is committed to ensuring that Burmese military units and leaders reckon with and put a stop to these brutal acts.” – Reuters