US suspends official travel to Myanmar's troubled Rakhine

A girl stands on the sandy banks of the natural boundary between Myanmar and Bangladesh near a makeshift camp in Rakhine state in Myanmar.
A girl stands on the sandy banks of the natural boundary between Myanmar and Bangladesh near a makeshift camp in Rakhine state in Myanmar. PHOTO: AFP

YANGON (REUTERS) - The United States temporarily suspended travel for American officials to parts of Myanmar's Rakhine state, the US embassy said on Thursday (Nov 23), citing concerns over potential protests after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson accused Myanmar of "ethnic cleansing" in the state.

"The situation in northern Rakhine state constitutes ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya," US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in a statement on Wednesday, using a term he avoided when visiting Myanmar, also known as Burma, last week.

"The United States will also pursue accountability through US law, including possible targeted sanctions" against those responsible for the alleged abuses, which have driven hundreds of thousands of Rohingya into neighbouring Bangladesh, he said.

The United States shifted its stance in part to raise pressure on Myanmar's military and civilian leaders, who have shared power for the past two years under an uneasy arrangement after decades of military rule, to address the crisis.

Rights monitors accused Myanmar's military of atrocities, including killings, mass rape and arson, against the stateless Rohingya during so-called clearance operations after Rohingya militants' Aug 25 attacks on 30 police posts and an army base.

More than 600,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled Rakhine state in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, mostly to neighbouring Bangladesh, since the crackdown, which followed the insurgent attacks.

"These abuses by some among the Burmese military, security forces, and local vigilantes have caused tremendous suffering and forced hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children to flee their homes," Tillerson said.