WASHINGTON: The US has cast doubts over the Chinese assertion that both Bangladesh and Myanmar have endorsed its three-step plan to resolve the "complicated" Rohingya refugee crisis.
The three steps, including a ceasefire, repatriation of refugees and talks on a long-term solution, was announced by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi after his visit to Bangladesh and Myanmar over the weekend.
"We are aware of reports regarding Foreign Minister Wang's announcement of a plan regarding Rakhine State. We look forward to hearing more details from China about how it proposes to address the complicated issues that must be worked out to resolve the crisis," a State Department official told PTI, after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called the military action against Rohingya Muslims as "ethic cleansing".
The US has been clear on the steps all stakeholders should take to address the situation in Rakhine State, the official said but did not elaborate if the US has been in touch with China over the Rohingya refugee crisis.
"We support the ongoing engagement between Bangladesh and Myanmar and urge both countries to continue negotiations to facilitate safe, dignified, and voluntary repatriations," the State Department official said yesterday.
Earlier in the day, a senior Trump administration official told reporters during a conference call that Myanmar's government and security forces must respect human rights of all persons within its borders and hold accountable those who fail to do so.
The official said this after the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson determined that actions against Rohingya in Rakhine State by security forces was ethnic cleansing.
The abuses by some among the Myanmar military security forces and local vigilantes caused tremendous suffering and forced hundreds of thousands, as we know, of men, women, and children to flee their homes in Myanmar, to seek refuge in Bangladesh, the official said.
"After a careful and thorough analysis of the available facts, the Secretary has noted that it is clear that the situation in northern Rakhine State constitutes ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya," the official said.
Tillerson also noted that those responsible for these atrocities must be held accountable and that the US continues to support a credible, independent investigation to further determine all of the facts on the ground to aid the process of accountability.
"We have supported constructive action on the Rakhine State crisis at the UN Security Council and in the UN General Assembly's third committee, and we will also pursue accountability through US law, including possible targeted sanctions," the official said.
"The Secretary has been clear and consistent in noting support for the Myanmar government's commitment to create conditions necessary for all the refugees and internally displaced persons to return to their homes safely and voluntarily, the official said.
The US welcomes the recent exchanges between the governments of Myanmar and Bangladesh on the ability to repatriate these individuals voluntarily.
On the repatriation of refugees, the official said that both Myanmar and Bangladesh are close to reaching an agreement on a process for voluntary repatriations of displaced persons.
"We have been noting positive comments from officials of the civilian government in Myanmar in this regard," said the official.
"Recently, we also note that support for these processes by Myanmar's military will be crucial, and that we are committed to working with Myanmar and others in the region to help the government and its people work through this crisis," the official said.
Congressman Ed Royce, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, welcomed the move to declare Myanmar's military actions against the Rohingya as 'ethnic cleansing'.
"I am glad the administration is calling attacks against the Rohingya what they are: ethnic cleansing. In recent months, we have heard horrific stories of young Rohingya mothers torn from their burning homes, drowned children, and mass execution," he said.
He demanded that the US should impose sanctions against the Myanmar military leaders responsible for the bloodbath.
Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator John McCain said that the State Department's decision to condemn the Myanmar military's persecution of the Rohingya community as 'ethnic cleansing' is welcome.
This statement makes clear the US' policy toward these crimes against humanity and must lead to demanding more accountability, he said.
"The next step should be targeted sanctions against the military officials responsible for these atrocities, and I will continue to work with my colleagues to advance the Myanmar Human Rights and Freedom Act of 2017," McCain said.
Meanwhile, a Congressional delegation, which has completed a fact-finding mission to Myanmar and Bangladesh, expressed shock over the deteriorating human rights situation.
"The persecution of Rohingya in Myanmar is a humanitarian crisis that has shocked the world and demands robust American leadership," said Congresswoman Betty McCollum, who was part of the delegation.
"The message of our trip is clear: we must not tolerate violence, discrimination, and human rights abuses anywhere in the world. We are also insisting that the US must do our part to assist the refugees who have fled Myanmar as they work to rebuild their lives," she said.
In a statement, the delegation called on Myanmar to address the root causes of the conflict and address the plight of the 600,000 Rohingya refugees.