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US bans Myanmar army chief over Rohingya 'ethnic cleansing'
[WASHINGTON] The United States on Tuesday banned visits by Myanmar's army chief and three other top officers due to their role in the "ethnic cleaning" of the Rohingya minority, urging accountability for their brutal campaign.
The State Department said it had "credible evidence" that army chief Min Aung Hlaing and the others were involved in the violence two years ago that led about 740,000 Rohingya to flee across the border to Bangladesh.
"With this announcement, the United States is the first government to publicly take action with respect to the most senior leadership of the Burmese military," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, referring to Myanmar by its former name Burma.
"We remain concerned that the Burmese government has taken no actions to hold accountable those responsible for human rights violations and abuses, and there are continued reports of the Burmese military committing human rights violations and abuses throughout the country," he said in a statement.
Mr Pompeo voiced outrage that Myanmar in May ordered the release of seven soldiers convicted for killing Rohingya villages, contrasting their treatment with the more than 500 days in prison spent by two Reuters journalist who helped expose the killing.
UN investigators say the violence warrants the prosecution of top generals for "genocide" and the International Criminal Court has started a preliminary probe.
Mr Pompeo, issuing a statement during a major meeting at the State Department on religious freedom, repeated the 2017 finding of his predecessor Rex Tillerson that the killings amounted to "ethnic cleansing" - while stopping short of using the term genocide.
A State Department study released last year described the violence against Rohingya as "extreme, large-scale, widespread and seemingly geared toward both terrorising the population and driving out the Rohingya residents."
Buddhist-majority Myanmar refuses to grant the mostly Muslim Rohingya citizenship or basic rights, and refers to them as "Bengalis," inferring that the Rohingya are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.