Nov. 22 (UPI) -- U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Wednesday that violence against the Muslim Rohingya population in Myanmar qualifies as ethnic cleansing.
"These abuses by some among the Burmese military, security forces, and local vigilantes have caused tremendous suffering and forced hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children to flee their homes in Burma to seek refuge in Bangladesh," Tillerson said.
"It is clear that the situation in northern Rakhine state constitutes ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya."
In the last year, more than 600,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled Myanmar for Bangladesh to escape violence in the Rakhine State. The violence has reportedly included government security forces raping and killing members of the minority group.
The secretary of state said the United States would continue to support independent investigations into the claims of humanitarian violations.
"The United States will also pursue accountability through U.S. law, including possible targeted sanctions," Tillerson said.
The statement Wednesday marks the first time Tillerson has used the term "ethnic cleansing" to describe the situation in Myanmar.
Tillerson met with Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Nov. 15 to discuss the Rohingya crisis and called the situation "horrific" and said it amounts to "crimes against humanity" but didn't use the term "ethnic cleansing" -- a term used by the United Nations.
Last week, Tillerson pledged an additional $47 million in humanitarian assistance for those affected by the Rakhine State crisis, making the total amount spent for humanitarian aid to more than $87 million since Aug. 2017.