US Targets Myanmar Military Leaders Over Rohingya Killings

17 July, 2019

The United States has announced restrictions on Myanmar's military Commander-in-Chief and other military leaders over the killings of Rohingya Muslims in 2017.

The sanctions are the strongest measures the U.S. has taken to answer the killings of minority Rohingyas in Myanmar, also known as Burma.

The sanctions target military Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing, his deputy, Soe Win and two other top military leaders and their families. They were identified as commanders Than Oo and Aung Aung.

The officials are barred from entering the United States.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo discussed the restrictions Tuesday in a statement. He said Myanmar had "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."

FILE - In this Sept. 1, 2017, file photo, members of Myanmar's Rohingya ethnic minority walk past rice fields after crossing the border into Bangladesh near Cox's Bazar's Teknaf area. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue, File)
FILE - In this Sept. 1, 2017, file photo, members of Myanmar's Rohingya ethnic minority walk past rice fields after crossing the border into Bangladesh near Cox's Bazar's Teknaf area. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue, File)

New information has been reported that Min Aung Hlaing ordered the release of soldiers found guilty of carrying out killings outside of the justice system. The killings took place at the village of Inn Din during the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya in 2017.

Pompeo said the information was an "egregious example of the continued and severe lack of accountability for the military and its senior leadership."

The U.S. Secretary of State said, "The Commander-in-Chief released these criminals after only months in prison, while the journalists who told the world about the killings in Inn Din were jailed for more than 500 days."

The Inn Din killings were uncovered by two Reuters reporters, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo. The men spent more than 16 months in prison on charges of possessing state secrets. The two were released on May 6.

The U.S. announcement came on the first day of an international conference of government ministers on religious freedom. The event at the U.S. State Department in Washington also was attended by Rohingya representatives.

Pompeo said that the U.S. "is the first government to publicly take action with respect to the most senior leadership of the Burmese military."

He said the individuals were chosen because of their "involvement in gross violations of human rights."

A 2017 military attack in Myanmar led to more than 730,000 Rohingya Muslims fleeing to neighboring Bangladesh. U.N. investigators have said that Myanmar's operation included mass killings, rapes and destruction of property. They said that the actions were carried out with "genocidal intent."

A United Nations investigator said this month that fighters and security forces of Myanmar were committing human rights violations against civilians that may be considered additional war crimes.

Myanmar denounces the sanctions

A spokesman for the Myanmar military, Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun, told Reuters by phone that the military had not ignored the accusations. He said one army-led investigation in 2017 cleared security forces of all wrongdoing. Another is continuing.

"Right now we have an investigative committee ... to conduct a detailed investigation," he said. "They should value these facts."

He said the soldiers had been lawfully released.

A spokesman for the ruling National League for Democracy Party, criticized the decision to place sanctions on the country.

"This kind of action happened because they don't understand the real situation of Myanmar," he said, adding, Myanmar's leaders had not ignored human rights concerns.

I'm Anne Ball.

Anne Ball adapted this story from Reuters and VOA News for VOA Learning English. Mario Ritter Jr. edited it.

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Words in This Story

sanction – n. an action that is taken or an order that is given to force a country to obey international laws by limiting or stopping trade with that country, by not allowing economic aid for that country, — usually plural

accountable – adj. required to explain actions or decisions to someone — usually + to

commit – v. to do (something that is illegal or harmful)

ethnic cleansing – n. the practice of removing or killing people who belong to an ethnic group that is different from the ruling group in a country or region

egregious – adj. very bad and easily noticed

journalist – n. a person whose job is to collect, write and edit news stories for newspapers, magazines, television or radio

gross – adj. very large and offensive

intent – n. the thing that you plan to do or achieve : an aim or purpose