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Tillerson calls for Myanmar Rohingya investigation


Tillerson calls for Myanmar Rohingya investigation

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Image caption Some US lawmakers are calling for sanctions to be re-imposed on Myanmar's military

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has called for an independent investigation into Myanmar's Rohingya crisis.

Myanmar's army has been accused of killing Rohingya people and burning their villages, forcing hundreds of thousands to flee to Bangladesh.

Mr Tillerson said the crisis concerned the US, but added that sanctions against Myanmar were "not advisable" at this time.

His comments came after he met Aung Sang Suu Kyi and Myanmar's army chief.

International pressure has been mounting for months on Aung Sang Suu Kyi to condemn the army's alleged brutality and what the UN human rights chief has described as a "textbook example of ethnic cleansing".

Ms Suu Kyi is the de-facto head of Myanmar's civilian administration but does not have control over the military. Her government has denied entry to UN investigators looking into allegations of ethnic cleansing.

She is accused of ignoring the plight of the Rohingya, a Muslim minority which is left stateless in majority-Buddhist Myanmar.

But speaking alongside Mr Tillerson at a joint press briefing on Wednesday in Myanmar's capital Naypyitaw, she said she had "not been silent".

"What people mean is what I say is not interesting enough," she said. "What I say is not meant to be exciting, it's meant to be accurate… not set people against each other."

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Some US lawmakers have introduced legislation that would impose targeted sanctions and travel restrictions on military officials in Myanmar over the crisis. The proposed measures would not target Ms Suu Kyi, who enjoyed widespread support in Washington during her years of house arrest under military rule.

While Mr Tillerson said he did not support broad economic sanctions, he said the US was "distressed" by the suffering of Rohingya refugees fleeing to Bangladesh.

"Scenes of what occurred are just horrific," he told reporters, adding that it was the biggest crisis Myanmar had faced since the transition from military rule.

Ms Suu Kyi won elections in 2015, the first free polls in Myanmar in 25 years.

About 600,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar since August this year, after Rohingya militant attacks on police posts sparked counter-insurgency operations.

Mr Tillerson condemned the attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (Arsa), calling them "unprovoked" and something that US had "zero tolerance" for.

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Media captionRohingya Muslims displaced from Tula Toli village in Rakhine State gave disturbing accounts

The US would continue to support Myanmar's transition to democracy, he said, adding: "We want to see Myanmar succeed… I have a hard time seeing how [sanctions] helps resolve this crisis."

But he said he would review the sanctions legislation back in Washington.

He also said the US would provide more aid to help both Bangladesh and Myanmar address the humanitarian crisis. The UN has warned that refugees are now at risk of sexual exploitation in Bangladesh.

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On Tuesday, the Myanmar army released the results of an internal investigation in which it exonerated itself of blame regarding the Rohingya crisis.

It denied killing any Rohingya villagers, setting houses alight, raping women and girls, or looting their homes.

However, the investigation's results contradicted evidence seen by BBC correspondents on the ground.

Rohingya people who reached Bangladesh also said that Burmese troops backed by local Buddhist mobs had burned their villages, attacking and killing civilians.

Amnesty International said the army's report was an attempted "whitewash" and called for UN factfinders to be allowed into the region.

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