By Patricia Zengerle
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. lawmakers proposed targeted sanctions and travel restrictions on Myanmar military officials on Thursday over the treatment of the country’s Rohingya Muslim minority, one of the strongest efforts yet for Washington to intervene in the humanitarian crisis.
Introduced the day before Republican Donald Trump leaves on his first trip to Asia as president, the legislation would reimpose some sanctions lifted last year as Myanmar returned to democracy. It also would bar the United States from supplying most assistance to the country’s military until perpetrators of atrocities against the Rohingya are held accountable.
The measure does not target Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi, head of Myanmar’s civilian-led government and a Nobel peace laureate who still enjoys strong support among some U.S. officials.
But congressional aides said it is intended to underscore a strong desire among many members of Congress for her to do more to help the Rohingya.
The legislation is sponsored by lawmakers including the Republican Senate Armed Services Committee chairman John McCain, and Senator Ben Cardin, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
“This bill will allow Congress to strengthen the president’s hand by making it clear to Burmese officials that there will be consequences for their crimes against humanity,” Cardin said in a statement.
Among other things, it re-imposes a ban on jade and rubies from Myanmar and requires a report on which individuals should be subjected to sanctions, and instructs the U.S. Treasury Department not to support international financial assistance programs that partner with enterprises owned by the Myanmar military.
A companion bill is also being introduced in the House of Representatives. That measure is also bipartisan, led by Representative Eliot Engel, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Republican Representative Steve Chabot, another foreign affairs panel member.
Members of Congress have been clamoring for a strong response to the plight of the Rohingya, and the Trump administration has been weighing labeling their treatment “ethnic cleansing.”
The State Department announced on Thursday that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson would accompany Trump on his trip to Asia, and also stop in Myanmar.
More than 600,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled Rakhine state in Buddhist-majority Myanmar since security forces responded to Rohingya militants’ attacks in August with a crackdown that has included reports of burnt villages and widespread killings. The United Nations has denounced it as a classic example of ethnic cleansing.
(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Frances Kerry and Andrew Hay)