U.S. lawmakers are calling for the exclusion of Myanmar’s military from U.S.-led defense drills in Thailand, bordering the country on the east. Officers from Myanmar were invited to observe humanitarian assistance exercises at the Cobra Gold drills on February 13, the Associated Press reported Wednesday.
Myanmar has been engaged in a bloody campaign against the Rohingya Muslim minority in the country since August. While the Rohingya, who have no citizenship rights, have been subject to decades of abuse in the Buddhist majority country, the most recent crackdowns — now being investigated as genocide — have resulted in thousands of deaths, mass rapes, and starvation.
The majority of the 1.1 million Rohingya who once lived in Myanmar have fled, with nearly 700,000 now living in camps in Bangladesh, which neighbors Myanmar on its western border. The United States has imposed sanctions on a few Myanmar officials, but stayed away from the kind of wide-reaching sanctions it has imposed on Iran, North Korea, and Cuba.
“Simply put, militaries engaged in ethnic cleansing should not be honing their skills alongside U.S. troops,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz), the Republican chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told the AP.
In addition for demanding restrictions on military engagement with Myanmar, the Senate bill also calls for more targeted sanctions on the country. A parallel bill is making its way through the House.
Myanmar has denied all violations of human rights laws, saying that it is only targeting Rohingya terrorists. But the state has also repeatedly denied journalists and humanitarian workers access to Rakhine State, where more of the Rohingya lived. Local journalists are also hamstrung in their ability to report what they see on the ground: Two Reuters reporters have been locked up there since December, with the arresting officer telling the court on Tuesday that he burned his notes on the arrest but could not give a reason for doing so.
Some human rights groups have managed to document the horrific abuses suffered by the Rohingya, and satellite images have shown hundreds of Rohingya villages being burned to the ground — incidents which casts doubt on a repatriation agreement signed by Myanmar and Bangladesh.
“We should not be rewarding those who flagrantly violate international law with impunity,” Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt) told the AP, which last week confirmed the presence of at least five mass graves filled with Rohingya bodies in Myanmar.
While the Pentagon continues to maintain military ties with Myanmar, Amnesty International on Wednesday released a report documenting ongoing forced starvation, abductions, and sexual assault and how “security forces’ ongoing actions appear designed toward the same goal: to make northern Rakhine State unlivable for the Rohingya population.”