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U.S. says Myanmar persecutes Rohingya, but not genocide

Migrants, who were found at sea on a boat, collect rainwater during a heavy rain fall at a temporary refugee camp near Kanyin Chaung jetty, outside Maungdaw township, northern Rakhine state, Myanmar June 4, 2015.

March 23, 2016

The U.S. State Department said on Monday it had determined that Myanmar is persecuting its Rohingya Muslims, but the government's treatment of the religious minority group does not constitute genocide.

"While it's without question that they continue to face persecution, we did not determine that it was on the level of genocide," State Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters.

In a report to Congress seen by Reuters, the State Department said the U.S. government is "gravely concerned" about abuses against the Rohingya, but did not determine that they constitute mass atrocities.

Tens of thousands of Rohingya Muslims have fled poverty and persecution in western Myanmar since religious violence erupted there in 2012, prompting international calls for investigation into what some called "strong evidence" of genocide.

The United Nations and European Union said on Monday hope that conditions would improve under Aung San Suu Kyi's new government has contributed to a slowdown in the number of migrants fleeing to Thailand and beyond.

Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) is forming a government that will take power on April 1, but she and the NLD have been criticized for saying little about how they will address the Rohingya's situation in Rakhine State where about 140,000 people remain in camps.

Congress passed legislation last year directing Secretary of State John Kerry to consult with governments and rights organizations and report to lawmakers on whether Buddhist extremists in Myanmar, also known as Burma, had committed atrocities against the Rohingya.

It gave Kerry until March 17 to report back and also to report on whether atrocities committed by Islamist extremists against Christians and other religious groups should be considered mass atrocities or genocide under U.S. law. Kerry told reporters on Thursday that Islamic State has committed genocide against Christians, Yazidis and Shi'ite Muslims.

But Kerry did not release the report addressing Islamic State and the Rohingya.

The report to Congress said Islamic State is responsible for crimes against humanity, but it does not make that determination for Myanmar.

"Meanwhile, we remain concerned about current acts that constitute persecution of and discrimination against members of the Rohingya population in Burma," the report said.

In 2012, it said conflict led to the deaths of nearly 200 Rohingya and the displacement of 140,000 people. Incidents of violence against Rohingya individuals continued from 2013-15, it said.

The report also found little public support in Myanmar for the rights of the Rohingya population, and recognized that some Buddhist leaders inflamed anti-Muslim sentiment through hate speech.

It called on the government of Myanmar "to pursue comprehensive and just solutions," including addressing human rights abuses, upholding rule of law, allowing access by aid groups and developing a path to citizenship or restoring citizenship to stateless people, including Rohingya.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle and Lesley Wroughton; , editing by G Crosse, Sandra Maler)

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