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US wants talks on Rohingya crisis but sanctions possible

Shannon speaks at a press conference in Dhaka

November 5, 2017

The US wants a diplomatic solution to the Rohingya crisis but is not ruling out sanctions to pressure Myanmar if needed, a senior State Department official said Sunday in Bangladesh.

Thomas Shannon, under secretary of state for political affairs, said solving the humanitarian crisis through dialogue with Myanmar was top priority but the door remained open for tougher measures should engagement fail.

"We have a variety of sanctions available to us should we decide to use them. This will be a part of larger efforts of pressure," Shannon told reporters after meeting officials in Dhaka.

"But right now, as I noted earlier, our purpose is to solve the problem, not to punish."

His comments come just days after US lawmakers proposed sanctions against Myanmar's military in some of the strongest efforts yet by Washington to pressure Myanmar to end abusive treatment of its Rohingya Muslim minority.

More than 600,000 mainly Rohingya refugees have fled a military-led campaign of violence in Buddhist-majority Myanmar likened by the United Nations to ethnic cleansing.

Refugees are still streaming across the border from Myanmar's Rakhine state into neighbouring Bangladesh, where hundreds of thousands of displaced Rohingya have settled in squalid camps since late August.

Shannon noted some "positive movements", including Myanmar signalling it was open to hosting members of the international community in Rakhine and holding talks with Bangladesh about the crisis.

The US wanted to "capture" that progress and drive it towards a resolution without having to resort to other means, he added.

"We are going to pursue a diplomatic solution to this problem until we can no longer pursue it," he said.

For decades the Rohingya have faced persecution in Myanmar, where they are denied citizenship and denigrated as illegal "Bengali" immigrants.

Myanmar says the military crackdown was in response to deadly attacks by insurgents claiming to be fighting for the Rohingya minority.

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