WASHINGTON – The State Department said Friday the U.S. is considering further actions against those responsible for "ethnic cleansing" of Rohingya Muslims, after a Myanmar general was blacklisted and Democratic lawmakers called for more military officers to face sanctions.
Rep. Eliot Engel, the top-ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, contended that Myanmar authorities were committing genocide in Rakhine State. He said it was "stunning" that the Trump administration has only designated one person from Myanmar over the bloody crackdown that caused a refugee exodus to Bangladesh.
The United States imposed sanctions on Maung Maung Soe, who until last month was chief of the Myanmar army's Western command responsible for security operations in Rakhine. He was among 13 people worldwide punished Thursday under human rights legislation.
Katina Adams, a State Department spokeswoman for East Asia, said Friday the U.S. is continuing to consider options under U.S. and international law "to help ensure that those responsible for ethnic cleansing and other atrocities face appropriate consequences."
The crackdown has forced 650,000 of the minority Muslims to flee the majority-Buddhist nation, casting a shadow over its transition to democracy after decades of direct military rule. That has soured relations with Washington, which in the past five years had been rolling back economic sanctions to support Myanmar's political change.
"With 6,000 dead and thousands more raped, beaten and displaced, it is clear Maung Maung Soe has not acted alone," said Rep. Joe Crowley of New York. "The other military officials involved in the ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya must be sanctioned for their roles in this genocide. The United States has a moral obligation to act."
Engel has put forward legislation to impose targeted sanctions and visa restrictions on those responsible for the crackdown. He called Friday for sanctions against the Bureau of Special Operations in the capital, Naypyidaw, including the military commander in chief, Min Aung Hlaing; the field commanders of three divisions under Maung Maung Soe's command in Rakhine State; and military commanders in northern Kachin and Shan states accused of "flagrant abuses of civilians."
Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon also supports more sanctions. He said by barring a U.N. human rights investigator from the country, the government was trying "to cover up and make invisible a campaign of mass atrocities."
Myanmar denies allegations of human rights violations, saying its security forces have not targeted civilians and were responding to attacks by Rohingya militants in August.
The aid group Doctors Without Borders estimates at least 6,700 Rohingya civilians were killed in the first month of the crackdown.