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US House backs measure to clamp down on Burma over Rohingya rights

People walk by the US Capitol building in Washington on Feb. 8, 2018. (Photo: Reuters)

WASHINGTON — Members of the US House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday in favor of legislation to pressure Burma to improve its record on human rights.

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 US Congress every year.

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

Washington has called the army response “ethnic cleansing,” which Burma 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 US security assistance or cooperation with Burma’s military or security forces until they have made progress on human rights.

It also would impose sanctions on current or former senior Burmese 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 Burma’s government to carry out transparent investigations into accusations of violence against the Rohingya Muslims and allow immediate aid access to the region.

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