Washington announces sanctions against Myanmar military's Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing and other leaders for extrajudicial killings of Rohingya Muslims, barring them from entry to US.
The United States has banned visits by Myanmar's army chief and three other top officers due to their role in the "ethnic cleansing" of the Rohingya minority, urging accountability for their brutal campaign.
The State Department said on Tuesday it took action against army chief Min Aung Hlaing and the others after finding credible evidence they were involved in the violence two years ago that led about 740,000 Rohingya to flee across the border to Bangladesh.
"With this announcement, the United States is the first government to publicly take action with respect to the most senior leadership of the Burmese military," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said.
"We remain concerned that the Burmese government has taken no actions to hold accountable those responsible for human rights violations and abuses, and there are continued reports of the Burmese military committing human rights violations and abuses throughout the country," he said in a statement.
The sanctions are the most visible sign of US disappointment with Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, since it launched political reforms in 2011, with the military junta reconciling with Washington and eventually allowing an elected political leadership.
Also sanctioned were Deputy Commander-in-Chief Soe Win, Brigadier-General Than Oo, and Brigadier General Aung Aung as well as the families of all four officers.
TRT World spoke with Dhaka-based journalist Hasan Abdullah for more.
Buddhist-majority Myanmar refuses to grant the mostly Muslim Rohingya citizenship or basic rights and refers to them as "Bengalis," inferring that the Rohingya are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
UN investigators say the violence warrants the prosecution of top generals for "genocide" and the International Criminal Court has started a preliminary probe.
Pompeo, issuing a statement during a major meeting at the State Department on religious freedom, repeated the 2017 finding of his predecessor Rex Tillerson that the killings amounted to "ethnic cleansing" –– while stopping short of using the term genocide.
The sanctions notably do not impact Aung San Suu Kyi, the former political prisoner who has risen to be the top civilian official.
The Nobel laureate has dismayed her onetime legions of Western admirers by not speaking out about the abuses.
US officials voiced hope that the sanctions would help the civilian leaders exert control over the army, which the State Department said was alone responsible for the anti-Rohingya campaign.
"Our hope is that these actions will strengthen the hand of the civilian government (and) will help to further delegitimize the current military leadership," an official said on condition of anonymity.
US announces sanctions on Myanmar's military Commander-in Chief and two other military leaders over the massacre of Rohingya Muslims pic.twitter.com/3kwX1qWmBr— TRT World Now (@TRTWorldNow) July 17, 2019
The United States last year imposed sanctions on more junior Myanmar security officials although the impact was more sweeping, with economic restrictions.
A State Department study released last year described the violence against Rohingya as "extreme, large-scale, widespread and seemingly geared toward both terrorising the population and driving out the Rohingya residents," including widespread rape and burning of villages.
Doctors Without Borders has estimated that at least 6,700 Rohingya Muslims were killed in the first month of the crackdown.
Myanmar's army has denied virtually any wrongdoing and said it was responding to Rohingya rebels.
Pompeo voiced particular outrage that Myanmar in May ordered the release of seven soldiers convicted of killing Rohingya villagers, serving less time than two Reuters journalists jailed for more than 500 days after exposing the deaths.