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US urges Myanmar to prosecute abusers of Muslim minority

NEW YORK (AP) — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo renewed U.S. calls on Friday for Myanmar to bring to justice those responsible for human rights abuses against the minority Rohingya Muslim population.

In a meeting in New York with a top aide to Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi, Pompeo also urged the government to immediately release two Reuters journalists who were jailed for reporting on violence in the country’s northern Rakhine State, according to the State Department.

The meeting between Pompeo and Kyaw Tint Swe on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly came a day after the U.N.’s top human rights body agreed to set up a team to collect evidence of crimes against the Rohingya and others since 2011 that could be used to prosecute perpetrators. It also followed the release this week of a U.S. report that found Myanmar’s military targeted Rohingya civilians indiscriminately in a coordinated effort to drive them out of the country, also known as Burma.

“While underscoring U.S. support for the democratic transition in Burma and efforts to achieve national peace and reconciliation, the secretary urged the government of Burma to take concrete steps to investigate the human rights abuses chronicled by the U.S. Documentation Report and U.N. Fact Finding Mission and to hold accountable members of the security forces and others responsible for these acts,” the department said in a statement.

“The secretary also called for the Burmese government to immediately release jailed Reuters reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo and to strengthen and protect freedom of expression,” it said.

The U.S. report, released by the State Department on Monday, said Myanmar’s military had often acted with “extreme brutality” against the Rohingya, although it did not say whether the abuses constitute genocide and crimes against humanity, as U.N. investigators have surmised.

Myanmar, a majority Buddhist nation which is now formally under civilian rule, has denied abuses by its military.

But the U.S. report, coming on the heels of an extensive U.N. fact-finding mission that recommended military leaders be prosecuted for genocide, will make it increasingly difficult for the government to rebut international criticism.

The report found that in the two months following August 2017 — when attacks by Rohingya militants on security forces triggered retaliation — satellite imagery show that more than 38,000 buildings were destroyed by fire in Rakhine State. In many areas, refugees said security forces used flamethrowers or incendiary devices to burn down houses and to kill and injure Rohingya. Sexual violence is also reported as having been widespread.

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