U.S. envoy to U.N. demands Myanmar prosecutions, weapons curbs, over Rohingya

UNITED NATIONS/YANGON (Reuters) – U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley on Thursday called on countries to suspend providing weapons to Myanmar over violence against Rohingya Muslims until the military puts sufficient accountability measures in place.

It was the first time the United States called for punishment of military leaders behind the repression, but stopped short of threatening to reimpose U.S. sanctions which were suspended under the Obama administration.

“We cannot be afraid to call the actions of the Burmese authorities what they appear to be – a brutal, sustained campaign to cleanse the country of an ethnic minority,” Haley told the U.N. Security Council, the first time Washington has echoed the U.N.’s accusation that the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people in Rakhine State was ethnic cleansing.

Myanmar rejects the accusations and has denounced rights abuses.

“The Burmese military must respect human rights and fundamental freedoms. Those who have been accused of committing abuses should be removed from command responsibilities immediately and prosecuted for wrongdoing,” Haley said.

“And any country that is currently providing weapons to the Burmese military should suspend these activities until sufficient accountability measures are in place,” Haley said.

Myanmar national security adviser Thaung Tun said at the United Nations on Thursday there was no ethnic cleansing or genocide happening in Myanmar. He told the Security Council that Myanmar had invited U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres to visit. A U.N. official said Guterres would consider visiting Myanmar under the right conditions.

China and Russia both expressed support for the Myanmar government. Myanmar said earlier this month it was negotiating with China and Russia, which have veto powers in the Security Council, to protect it from any possible action by the council.

The Trump administration has mostly hewed to former President Barack Obama’s approach of forging warmer relations with Myanmar, partly aimed at countering China’s influence in the resource-rich Southeast Asian country.

Meanwhile, international aid groups in Myanmar have urged the government to allow free access to Rakhine, where an army offensive has sent more than 500,000 people fleeing to Bangladesh, but hundreds of thousands remain cut off from food, shelter and medical care.

Refugees are still leaving Myanmar, more than a month after Rohingya Muslim insurgents…

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