WASHINGTON: The United States has imposed sanctions on Myanmar’s Army Chief Min Aung Hlaing and three other military officers over their role in the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya minority.
The State Department said that the action was taken after finding credible evidence about their involvement 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 in a statement.
“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 added.
Deputy Commander-in-Chief Soe Win, Brigadier-General Than Oo and Brigadier-General Aung Aung, as well as the families of all four officers were also slapped with sanctions.
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 undocumented immigrants from Bangladesh.
United Nations investigators say the violence warrants the prosecution of top generals for “genocide” and the International Criminal Court has started a preliminary probe.
Pompeo repeated the 2017 finding of his predecessor, Rex Tillerson, that the killings amounted to “ethnic cleansing” – while stopping short of using the term genocide.
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.
He called it an “egregious example of the continued and severe lack of accountability for the military and its senior leadership”.