The overnight change in Trump administration's stance on atrocities on the Rohingyas is likely to expose Myanmar to sanctions as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson now calls it "ethnic cleansing", shifting from his earlier comments, the New York Times said yesterday.
"The Trump administration declared on Wednesday that Myanmar's brutal crackdown on its Rohingya minority constituted 'ethnic cleansing,' a long-anticipated designation that will open the doors to sanctions against the country's military commanders and intensify pressure on its civilian leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi," the NYT said in a report.
Tillerson on Wednesday also said the United States would pursue "targeted sanctions," most likely against military leaders implicated in the crackdown as he was unequivocal in his statement denouncing the actions of Myanmar's military.
"No provocation can justify the horrendous atrocities that have ensued," Tillerson said, acknowledging the deadly attack on security forces by a Rohingya militia that triggered the current crisis.
After his last week Myanmar visit, he refused to use the term (ethnic cleansing) while describing its military actions in the country's western Rakhine State, saying instead he was "very concerned" about the reports.
"After a careful and thorough analysis of available facts, it is clear that the situation in northern Rakhine state constitutes ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya," he said in Wednesday's statement.
On the contrary, what he had said on November 15 was "Whether it (atrocities) meets all the criteria of ethnic cleansing we continue to determine ourselves".
The CNN, meanwhile, quoting a senior state department official said the United States was considering additional steps it can take with other nations or unilaterally that include "possible targeted sanctions".
"We (US) will increase pressure on the parties to reach an accommodation about repatriation of people who are displaced, and also pressure on the military in Burma and the civilian government to work quickly to respond to events on the ground," it said quoting the unnamed official.
Quoting global rights activists, NYT said "It's extraordinarily significant when the United States formally designates something as ethnic cleansing" while "ethnic cleansing is a crime against humanity".
According to NYT, Tillerson stopped short of explicitly calling for an international investigation into the atrocities as critics said that Myanmar had proved itself, through previous investigations, unable to uncover the truth of its persecution of its Muslim minority.
The newspaper, however, said the US administration officials continued to rule out broader sanctions against the Myanmar government because they said it could jeopardize the country's delicate transition to democracy after decades of repressive military rule.
Human rights advocates said the administration's use of the label "ethnic cleansing" would add to an international pressure campaign against Myanmar that they hope will come to include a global arms embargo and a suspension of military-to-military relations.
Legislation in Congress would require the United States to cut off all ties to the military.
US lawmakers praised Tillerson's statement, though some labeled it overdue while Senator John McCain said "we cannot let another massacre occur as the world stands by and watches".
"The United States has a moral obligation to do all it can to prevent mass atrocities and make clear to those responsible for ethnic cleansing in Burma - and those who look to do the same elsewhere - that their actions will not be tolerated," said McCain, the Arizona Republican who is chairman of the Armed Services Committee.
Tillerson's announcement was also welcomed at the United Nations, where senior officials began describing the anti-Rohingya atrocities as ethnic cleansing more than two months ago.