Rex Tillerson arrives in Myanmar today to address the plight of Rohingya Muslims. One UN official has called military operations in Rakhine state, which has resulted in 600,000 Rohingya fleeing to Bangladesh, a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”.
Tillerson will meet with the country’s de facto civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi and military head General Min Aung Hlaing. While the secretary has said the US “can’t just stand idly by ” he has been reluctant to term the violence as ethnic cleansing or genocide.
Yet, after being slow to condemnation, momentum for action is building in Washington. Legislation has been introduced in Congress to sanction Myanmar if does not end the violence and the Trump administration is sending aid to the refugees. However, the sanctions bill has been slow to gain support.
Look to Tillerson’s visit for signs of America’s next steps. If he takes an aggressive posture with Myanmar’s leaders and endorses sanctions, expect the proposed measures to gain steam. With sanctions having previously brought the military regime to cede power to Ms Suu Kyi, there is hope that if Washington pursues that route it can again achieve results.
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