US says violence against Burma's Rohingya Muslims 'ethnic cleansing'
The United States is declaring that the violence against Rohingya Muslims in Burma constitutes ethnic cleansing.
More than 600,000 Rohingya from Burma's Rakhine State have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh amid the violence, seeking refuge from what the military called "clearance operations."
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, acting on a recent recommendation from the State Department, has now said: "No provocation can justify the horrendous atrocities that have ensued" for which he blames Burma's forces and "local vigilantes".
He added that those responsible "must be held accountable."
US lawmakers and rights groups have been urging the Trump administration to call the violence ethnic cleansing.
The declaration is likely to increase pressure on the Trump administration and Congress to move toward new sanctions on Burma.
The crisis started in August, when Rohingya insurgents attacked Burmese security forces, leading to a brutal crackdown in which soldiers and Buddhist mobs killed men, raped woman and burned homes and property to force the Rohingya to leave.
Mr Tillerson travelled to Burma last week in the highest level visit by a US official since President Donald Trump took office.
He met with the country's civilian leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, and powerful military chief, Min Aung Hlaing.
He said the US would consider targeted sanctions against individuals deemed responsible for the violence, but he was not advocating broad-based economic sanctions against the entire nation.
Sanctions on the south-east Asian nation were eased in recent years as the country made steps towards democracy.
Although the "ethnic cleansing" label does not carry specific legal requirements for the US, it is likely to intensify calls for the Trump administration and Congress to move toward new sanctions on Burma.
Earlier this year the US restored restrictions on granting visas to members of Burma's military, and the State Department has deemed units and officers involved in operations in Rakhine state illegible for US assistance.