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Rohingya Muslims risk lives to cross border
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Tillerson on his first ever visit to Myanmar

More than 615,000 Rohingya refugees have fled the country since August 25

CNN  — 

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says more information is needed before Washington agrees with the United Nations that the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar constitutes ethnic cleansing.

In a joint press conference Wednesday alongside Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi, Tillerson called for a full and independent investigation into the situation in Rakhine state.

“We are very concerned by reports of widespread atrocities committed by Myanmar security forces,” Tillerson said.

“What we know occurred in Rakhine state … has a number of characteristics of crimes against humanity,” he added.

“Whether it meets all the criteria of ethnic cleansing we continue to determine ourselves.”

Myanmar's leader Aung San Suu Kyi, right, shakes hands with visiting US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Naypyitaw, Myanmar.

More than 615,000 Rohingya refugees have fled the country since August 25, according to aid agencies, pouring into neighboring Bangladesh, which has struggled to deal with the influx.

However, Tillerson was adamant that broad-based sanctions – as some have called for in Washington – were not an answer to the crisis.

During his visit to the Myanmar capital Naypyidaw, his first to the country, Tillerson pledged an additional $47 million in aid for refugees, bringing the total the US has earmarked for the crisis to $87 million since August.

Survivors of an alleged massacre of Rohingya Muslims at Tula Toli village in Myanmar in August 2017
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Sanctions skepticism

Refugees have fled violent clashes in the north of Rakhine state, where Myanmar’s military has intensified what it calls “clearance operations” targeting “terrorists” after Rohingya militants attacked police posts, killing 12 security officials.

Continued reports of horrific suffering and atrocities since the crisis escalated have intensified criticism of Myanmar’s government and Suu Kyi in particular.

Representatives of the United Nations and the European Union have described the situation as “ethnic cleansing,” an assessment echoed by British Prime Minister Theresa May this week.

However, Tillerson said more information was needed for Washington to use that language, and called for an independent inquiry into the causes of the crisis and alleged atrocities.