The US government said on Wednesday that abuses directed at the Rohingya ethnic group in Myanmar amount to ethnic cleansing.
"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," Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in a statement, Efe news agency reported.
Despite expressing concern about the plight of the Rohingya, Washington has declined until now to ascribe their suffering to a deliberate campaign of ethnic cleansing.
The statement follows a visit last week to Myanmar by Tillerson, who met with State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi and the head of the armed forces, Gen. Min Aung Hlaing.
The country's "government and security forces must respect the human rights of all persons within its borders, and hold accountable those who fail to do so," the secretary said Wednesday.
"The United States continues to support a credible, independent investigation to further determine all facts on the ground to aid in these processes of accountability," he said.
More than 600,000 Rohingyas have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh since Myanmar launched a military operation against the mainly Muslim minority group following the deaths of a dozen members of the security forces in Aug. 25 attacks by a group calling itself the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army.
State Department officials said Wednesday in a conference call with reporters that President Donald Trump's administration is weighing the idea of imposing sanctions on specific individuals in Myanmar found responsible for what they described as "organised and planned" ethnic cleansing.
Senior officials of Myanmar and Bangladesh began talks Wednesday on a plan to repatriate the roughly 622,000 Rohingya refugees into Bangladeshi territory.
In a report presented Tuesday in Bangkok, Amnesty International accused Myanmar of subjecting the Rohingya to a system of "institutional" discrimination tantamount to apartheid.