The U.S. continues to weigh renewing sanctions on Myanmar as international frustration over the country’s treatment of its ethnic Rohingya minority rises, according to a senior State Department official.
With Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arriving in Myanmar on Wednesday, the U.S. will look to engage the country’s military leaders and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi in addressing the violence against the Rohingya, according to the official, who asked not to be identified previewing Tillerson’s visit. It’s the final stop for Tillerson in a nearly two-week visit to the region, most of it alongside President Donald Trump.
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The conversations in Myanmar could include consequences if the country’s leaders can’t formulate a “credible response” to the crisis that satisfies the international community, the official said when asked if renewed sanctions were still under consideration. Patrick Murphy, the deputy assistant secretary of state for Southeast Asia, first raised the possibility of renewed sanctions last month, saying that “there’s no question in our minds that atrocities have been committed.”
Suu Kyi has seen her reputation tarnished as the violence continues. She has described the military operations in Rakhine state as a counterterrorism operation and said she condemns any unlawful violence. But she has also come under fire for not speaking out more more forcefully against the violence and for questioning reports that government security forces and Buddhist vigilantes indiscriminately attacked Rohingya and burned their villages.
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Read a QuickTake Q&A on Myanmar’s Rohingya refugee crisis
The official said Suu Kyi has been “very forthcoming” about wanting to solve the problem and wields a lot of influence. However, she “needs to have help in doing that as well,” the official said, in an apparent reference to the military leaders who still dominate the country’s politics.
Right now the US. focus is stopping the violence, making sure the military protects everyone equally and conducts a credible investigation that holds those who perpetrated abuses responsible, the U.S. official said.
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Tillerson met with Suu Kyi on Tuesday on the sidelines of a gathering of leaders from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Manila. During the meeting, she remained silent when a reporter asked if she considered the Rohingya to be citizens of Myanmar. A panel chaired by former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has urged Myanmar to consider rules to allow the Rohingya to obtain citizenship.
The U.S. first imposed economic sanctions on Myanmar in 1990 in an attempt to weaken the then-military regime and its business affiliates. As the generals loosened their grip in recent years, the U.S. did likewise, and former President Barack Obama announced last year the lifting of sanctions.
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