May 23, 2018 / 9:56 PM / 5 months ago

House backs measure to clamp down on Myanmar over Rohingya rights

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Members of the U.S. House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday in favor of legislation to pressure Myanmar, also known as Burma, to improve its record on human rights.

Refugees are seen at the Cox's Bazar refugee camp in Bangladesh, near Rakhine state, Myanmar, during a trip by United Nations envoys to the region April 29, 2018. REUTERS/Michelle Nichols

Lawmakers voted 382-30 to approve the measure as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, a massive defense policy bill that is one of the few pieces of legislation passed by the U.S. Congress every year.

Nearly 700,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled into Bangladesh from Myanmar since August to escape a military crackdown, launched in response to Rohingya insurgent attacks. Refugees have reported murder, rape and arson by Myanmar troops.

Washington has called the army response “ethnic cleansing,” which Myanmar has denied, saying its security forces were conducting a legitimate counter-insurgency operation against “Bengali terrorists.”

If included in a final version of the NDAA, typically passed by the House and Senate later in the year, the measure would, among other things, bar U.S. security assistance or cooperation with Myanmar’s military or security forces until they have made progress on human rights.

It also would impose sanctions on current or former senior Myanmar military officials who perpetrated or were responsible for serious human rights abuses.

The amendment was introduced by Representative Eliot Engel, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Earlier this month the United Nations Security Council urged Myanmar’s government to carry out transparent investigations into accusations of violence against the Rohingya Muslims and allow immediate aid access to the region.

Reporting by Patricia Zengerle

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