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Secretary of State Rex Tillerson declares Myanmar's treatment of Rohingya as 'ethnic cleansing

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Zahid Hasan, the 1 1/2 year old Rohingya Muslim refugee and his sister wait for their turn to see a doctor for severe malnutrition at the Balukhali refugee camp in Bangladesh's Ukhia district. (Dibyangshu Sarkar/ AFP/Getty Images)

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Wednesday declared the treatment of Myanmar's Rohingya Muslim population as "ethnic cleansing," adding it could lead to "possible targeted sanctions."

“After a careful and thorough analysis of available facts, it is clear that the situation in northern Rakhine state constitutes ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya,” Tillerson said in a statement.

More than 600,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled to Bangladesh from Myanmar since August. The fled their country after suffering severe persecution by the Buddhist-dominated government that considers them illegal immigrants, not citizens. The Rohingya, who live in Rakhine state, have lived in the country since the 8th century, Business Insider reported.

"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.

Tillerson's declaration backed the statements made by Zeid Ra‘ad al-Hussein, the chief of the UN's Human Rights Council in September, Business Insider reported.

“The situation seems a textbook example of ethnic cleansing,” al-Hussein said.

What's led to this?

In August, a staged insurgent attack by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army left a dozen security forces dead, according to Reuters. The military killed at least 59 of the insurgents, Reuters reported.

The Rohingya Muslims have faced violence for decades, but it has escalated since the August attack.

The military has destroyed nearly 300 Rohingya villages since the August attack.

The forces rape and kill many of the villages' residents. Others are sent fleeing to Bangladesh, and ending up in refugee camps if they make it.

According to Business Insider, the Myanmar government denies accountability for the treatment of the Rohingya and claims it's fighting terrorism.

It also says the Rohingya people are burning down their own villages.

The U.S. is under pressure from the United Nations and other countries to pursue sanctions and hold the Myanmar government accountable for its abuses against the Rohingya people, according to The Hill.

Tillerson said the U.S., "continues to support a credible, independent investigation to further determine all facts on the ground to aid in these processes of accountability."

Last week, he announced, "an additional $47 million in humanitarian assistance for those affected by the Rakhine State crisis, bringing the total amount spent in response to this crisis to more than $87 million since August."

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