Putting pressure on Myanmar, the United States on Wednesday declared as "ethnic cleansing" the violence against Rohingyas in the country and warned that the Trump administration could impose new penalties on it.
More than 600,000 Rohingyas from Myanmar’s Rakhine state have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh, creating one of the world’s most dire refugee crisis.
US lawmakers and human rights advocates had called for Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to act on the recommendation of the state department and declare the situation ethnic cleansing.
Tillerson, in a statement, said that the Trump administration would "pursue accountability" through US law, including "possible targeted" sanctions.
However, senior administration officials ruled out a broad based sanctions against Myanmar, noting that the democracy in the country is in its nascent stage.
Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, has moved toward civilian government in recent years after decades of military rule, though the military retains significant power.
At this time "there is no determination of crime againsthumanity or genocide", a senior administration official told reporters during a conference call, adding that the US will continue to further watch the situation, but there is no other action as of now.
"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, demanding that those responsible for these atrocities must be held accountable.
The US continues to support a credible, independent investigation to further determine all facts on the ground to aid in these processes of accountability, he said.
"We have supported constructive action on the Rakhine crisis at the UN Security Council and in the UN General Assembly’s Third Committee. The United States will also pursue accountability through US law, including possible targeted sanctions," Tillerson said.
Reiterating US' condemnation of the August 25 attacks on security forces by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, Tillerson said yet no provocation can justify the horrendous atrocities that have ensued.
Officials in Myanmar, a mostly Buddhist nation, deny accusations of a systematic offensive against the Rohingya and claim the military intervened in Rakhine to battle Muslim insurgents.
"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 (Myanmar) to seek refuge in Bangladesh," Tillerson said.
Tillerson was recently in Naypyitaw where he met separately with State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces General Min Aung Hlaing.
"I reaffirmed the United States' strong commitment to Burma's successful democratic transition as the elected government strives to implement reforms, bring peace and reconciliation to the nation, and resolve a devastating crisis in Rakhine State," he said.
"Our first priority is to relieve the intolerable suffering faced by so many. In response to the dire situation," he said.
Last week, Tillerson announced an additional USD 47 million in humanitarian assistance for those affected by the Rakhine State crisis, bringing the total amount spent in response to this crisis to more than USD 87 million since August of this year.
Later in a conference call, a senior administration official said the US is looking at additional "individual" and "targeted" sanctions.