US officials will not label treatment of Myanmar's Rohingya as 'ethnic cleansing'

WASHINGTON, Oct 24 (Reuters) - U.S. government officials declined on Tuesday to characterize the treatment of Myanmar's Rohingya Muslims as ethnic cleansing, but listed new measures including targeted sanctions Washington is considering to address the crisis.

"I'm not in a position ... to characterize it today, but to me this very closely resembles some of the worst kind of atrocities that I've seen during a long career," Mark Storella Deputy Assistant Secretary of State from the Bureau Of Population, Refugees and Migration said at a Senate hearing, when pressed to say whether he viewed the situation as ethnic cleansing.

Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims have fled Myanmar's Rakhine state since security forces responded to Rohingya militants' attacks on Aug. 25 by launching a crackdown the United Nations has denounced as ethnic cleansing.

Myanmar, also known as Burma, rejects that accusation, insisting action was needed to combat "terrorists" who killed civilians.

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Inside a Rohingya refugee camp
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Inside a Rohingya refugee camp
A Rohingya refugee woman hangs her washing out in Balukhali refugee camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh October 22, 2017. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
Sufated, a 10-month-old malnourished Rohingya boy, cries while being weighed at the Action Against Hunger center in Kutupalong refugee camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh October 22, 2017. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Rohingya refugees who crossed the border from Myanmar this week take shelter at a school in Kutupalong refugee camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh October 22, 2017. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Rohingya refugee children carry supplies through Balukhali refugee camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, October 23, 2017. REUTERS/Hannah McKay
Rohingya refugees travel on a truck, as they shift to another camp, outside the Palong Khali refugee camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh October 23, 2017. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
A Rohingya refugee boy fetches water from a water pump in Kutupalong refugee camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, October 23, 2017. REUTERS/Hannah McKay
Rohingya refugees carry an injured man after a fight broke out between families at the Palong Khali refugee camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh October 23, 2017. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
Rohingya refugees walk inside the Palong Khali refugee camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh October 23, 2017. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
Rohingya refugees manually drill a borewell at the Palong Khali refugee camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh October 23, 2017. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
Ruzina Akhter, 10, whose parents died while crossing the Myanmar border, cooks food inside a shelter at a refugee camp in Palong Khali near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh October 22, 2017. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
Rohingya refugees stand outside their shelter on hillock at a refugee camp in Palong Khali near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh October 22, 2017. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
A Rohingya refugee boy bathes at a refugee camp in Palong Khali district in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, October 22, 2017. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
Sowkot, 20, a pregnant Rohingya refugee, is examined in a women's clinic in Balukhali refugee camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, October 23, 2017. REUTERS/Hannah McKay
An army soldier gestures, as he asks Rohingya refugees to stand in a queue, outside a relief distribution centre, at the Palong Khali refugee camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh October 23, 2017. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
Rohingya refugee children stand in Palong Khali refugees camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, October 22, 2017. REUTERS/Hannah McKay
A Rohingya refugee girl holds her sister as she sits outside a medical center at a refugee camp in Palong Khali district, near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh October 22, 2017. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
Rohingya refugees line up to get food from Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA) near Balukhali refugees camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh October 21, 2017. REUTERS/ Zohra Bensemra
A Rohingya refugee boy carries a fish in Kutupalong refugees camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh October 21, 2017. REUTERS/ Zohra Bensemra
Rohingya refugees walk in mud in Kutupalong refugees camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, October 20, 2017. REUTERS/ Zohra Bensemra
Rohingya refugees who crossed the border from Myanmar this week take shelter at a school in Kotupalang refugee camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh October 21, 2017. REUTERS/ Zohra Bensemra
Zannat, 8, a Rohingya refugee, stands at the entrance to Kutupalong refugee camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, October 23, 2017. REUTERS/Hannah McKay
Rohingya refugees offload humanitarian aid into Kutupalong refugee camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, October 23, 2017. REUTERS/Hannah McKay
Rohingya refugees are registered by Bangladeshi army personnel at a registration center in Kutupalong refugees camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, October 20, 2017. REUTERS/ Zohra Bensemra
A Rohingya refugee girl who crossed the border from Myanmar this week sleeps beside his family belongings as he take shelter at a school in Kotupalang refugee camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh October 21, 2017. REUTERS/ Zohra Bensemra
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But it has left the world community counting the cost as international organizations and the government of Bangladesh, which has taken in the vast majority of the refugees, race to provide food, water and medical care.

Many U.S. lawmakers have clamored for a strong U.S. response to the crisis and criticized government leader Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel peace laureate once hugely popular in Washington, for failing to do more.

"She's an impressive person, but she's not taking on the challenge," said Senator Ben Cardin, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Cardin said he considered the treatment of the Rohingya genocide.

The State Department said on Monday that Washington is taking steps and considering a range of further actions over Myanmar's treatment of the Rohingya, including targeted sanctions under its Global Magnitsky law.

At the foreign relations committee hearing, Patrick Murphy, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian And Pacific Affairs, said broader sanctions were also being considered, but cautioned that doing so could lessen the U.S. government's ability to influence the Myanmar government to change.

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