The US House of Representatives has condemned the "ethnic cleansing of the Rohingyas" and passed a resolution by a two-thirds voice vote "calling for an end to the attacks" against the Muslim minority in Myanmar.
The resolution is the first step in congressional actions that could eventually include a stand-alone sanctions bill severing US military ties with Myanmar and putting financial pressure on it.
Passing the resolution on Wednesday, the House called for immediate restoration of humanitarian access to the Rakhine State where horrendous atrocities by the Myanmar military have forced over 625,000 Rohingyas to flee to Bangladesh.
“This is a moral issue and a national security issue,” House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce, a Republican from California, said on the House floor.
“No one is secure when extremism and instability is growing in this part of the world.”
In his statement, House Democratic Whip Steny H Hoyer said, "This slaughter must end, and our resolution ought to send a strong message to Burmese leaders that their commitment to restoring democracy will be judged by their respect for the individual rights and freedoms of all people living within Burma's borders, no matter their faith or ethnicity."
The bipartisan resolution, introduced by Democratic Congressman Joe Crowley of New York and Republican Representative Steve Chabot of Ohio, condemns the "horrific actions" of the Myanmar military and security forces, and calls for an immediate cessation of violence.
“Hundreds have been killed,” Royce said.
“At least 200 villages have been burned to the ground, landmines have been placed inside Burma's border with Bangladesh, maiming refugees who are seeking safe haven. There are reports of rapes and all types of violence committed against the Rohingya.”
In his remark on the House floor, New York Democratic Representative Eliot Engel said the resolution called on Myanmar's de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi to exercise moral leadership, something that is needed now more than ever.
“We reject the army's claims that what's taking place in Myanmar is a so-called counter-terrorism measure -- that's nonsense. It's a textbook ethnic cleansing, that's what it is.
"We should also encourage other governments to stay engaged and continue to address the pressing needs of these refugees -- needs that will only grow as long as this situation remains unresolved," said Engel, ranking member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.
"Bangladesh deserves our deep gratitude for opening its doors to the Rohingya at a time when our government slams the door shut.
Engel further said, "The governments of Burma and Bangladesh have struck a deal to begin repatriating Rohingya next month, but it's not yet clear that anyone is interested in returning right now."
Commenting on the passage of the resolution, Republican Representative Steve Chabot told the VOA, "The Burmese military's widespread brutality toward Rohingya civilians over the last few months and its attempts to drive them out of the country are deeply disturbing.
"That is why Congressman Crowley and I introduced resolution to condemn this ethnic cleansing and show the American people's outrage at these attacks.
"This resolution calls on Burmese authorities to work with the international community to resolve the crisis while also calling on Secretary [of State Rex Tillerson] to impose sanctions on those responsible for human rights abuses," Chabot added.
Tillerson shifted the US approach to the crisis last month when he deemed the violence against the Rohingyas ethnic cleansing, saying, “This violence must stop, this persecution must stop.”
Congresswoman Betty McCollum, who visited the refugee camps in Bangladesh last month, said the congressional fact-finding mission has noted that their visits to refugee camps and conversations with survivors made it clear that the persecution of the Rohingyas in Rakhine is a "severe humanitarian crisis that demands robust" American leadership.
"This resolution is an important first step in demonstrating that Congress will not tolerate human rights abuses against Rohingyas. As our delegation saw, there is a path forward. The Burmese government and military must fully implement the recommendations of former UN secretary general Kofi Annan's advisory commission," McCollum said.
A bipartisan sanctions bill, introduced by Engel and Chabot last month, could mean cutting US military ties with Myanmar and imposing harsh sanctions on industries that fund the Burmese military.
If passed, the bill would also reimpose sanctions on the lucrative Burmese gem trade that were lifted last year by the then US president Barack Obama in an executive order.
CHINA'S CALL FOR DIALOGUE
China has reiterated its call for “dialogue and consultation” between Dhaka and Naypyitaw to resolve the Rohingya crisis and expressed satisfaction at the progress achieved so far towards that direction.
"We are very happy to note that Bangladesh and Myanmar are making progress in settling the issue... the Chinese side will continue to work closely with the relevant parties to promote dialogue and consultation for a long term solution to the Rohingya crisis," Wang Yajun, assistant minister for the International Department of Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party (CPC), said yesterday.
He was speaking at a briefing in Dhaka's Sonargaon Hotel about the outcome of the 19th National Congress of the CPC held in Beijing recently.
The Chinese leader, who arrived in Dhaka on Wednesday on a three-day Bangladesh visit with a high-profile delegation, expressed satisfaction over the signing of a bilateral agreement between Dhaka and Naypyitaw for repatriating the Rohingyas sheltered in Bangladesh.
Wang Yajun said China has been urging the global community to create an "enabling environment" for dialogue and consultation to address the Rohingya issue.
Lauding Bangladesh's role, he said the country has made tremendous efforts in giving shelter to the Rohingyas. "The Chinese side highly appreciates the good gesture from Bangladesh."
He further said China fully understands the pressure faced by Bangladesh in economic, social and environmental aspects.
The CPC leader said China's three-step suggestions to find a solution to the Rohingya crisis has been acknowledged by Bangladesh and Myanmar as well as the international community.
Earlier, Awami League Presidium Member Faruk Khan, who was present at the briefing, sought China's support to find a solution to the Rohingyas crisis soon.
Chinese Ambassador in Dhaka Ma Mingqiang moderated the briefing.