US lawmakers want sanctions on Myanmar military

US lawmakers want sanctions on Myanmar military

In one of the strongest efforts yet by Washington  to pressure  Myanmar to end its abusive treatment of the Rohingya Muslim community, US lawmakers on Friday proposed sanctions against the Southeast Asian nation's military.

House Republicans and Democrats introduced legislation that would curtail assistance or cooperation with Myanmar's military and require the White House to identify senior military officials who would have US visa bans imposed  on them.

A bipartisan group in the Senate, including Senate Armed Services Committee chairman John McCain, introduced  its bill on Thursday.

It calls for renewal of import and trade restrictions on Myanmar, including re-imposing a ban on jade and rubies from the country.

"Our legislation would hold accountable the senior military officials responsible for the slaughter and displacement of innocent men, women and children in Burma (Myanmar's older name), and make clear that the United States will not stand for these atrocities," McCain said in a statement.

The tough proposals came as US President Donald Trump departed for an extended trip to Asia, where he will attend a summit with Southeast Asian nations, including Myanmar.

The US, while condemning the deadly violence that has prompted more than 6,00,000 people to flee to the neighbouring Bangladesh, has been careful to say it holds the military responsible, not Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi's civilian government.

House Democrat Eliot Engel said lawmakers wanted to send a "clear message" with the targeted sanctions, both to the military and the civilian leadership, about the violence that has left hundreds of people dead.

"This violence must stop, perpetrators must be held accountable, and there must be meaningful civilian control over Burma's military and security forces," Engel said.

Lawmakers also want Myanmar's military to ensure the safe return of refugees displaced from the northern Rakhine State, where the military has been accused by the United Nations of a campaign of ethnic cleansing.

"There will be consequences for their crimes against humanity," said Senator Ben Cardin, a Democratic sponsor of the bill.

Myanmar officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

But dealers in  Myanmar's gem industry  - a lucrative sector that was under US sanctions until last October  - shrugged off the threat, saying China was still the top buyer.

"If (sanctions) are reimposed, there will be no harm to us. We used to work under sanctions in the past as well," Tun Hla Aung, secretary of Myanmar Gems and Jewellery Entrepreneurs Association, said.

The fate of the legislation may rest in part with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a longtime friend and ally of Suu Kyi.

The two politicians spoke by telephone in September, when she assured McConnell she was working to get aid to Rohingya Muslims.

McConnell defended the Nobel peace laureate after the call, warning that "publicly condemning Aung San Suu Kyi, the best hope for democratic reform in Burma, is not constructive".

Suu Kyi has been hammered by the international community for failing to use her moral power to speak up in defense of the Rohingya.

On Thursday, she visited Rakhine for the first time.

McConnell's office said the Republican leader was reviewing the sanctions legislation. As Senate leader, McConnell determines which bills get to the floor for a vote.

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