WASHINGTON -  US lawmakers have proposed sanctions against Myanmar’s military, in some of the strongest efforts yet by Washington to pressure the Southeast Asian nation to end abusive treatment of its Rohingya Muslim minority.

House Republicans and Democrats introduced legislation that would curtail assistance or cooperation with Myanmar’s military and require the White House to identify senior military officials who would have US visa bans imposed or re-imposed against them.

A bipartisan group in the Senate, including Senate Armed Services Committee chairman John McCain, introduced their bill Thursday.

It calls for renewal of import and trade restrictions on Myanmar, including re-imposing a ban on jade and rubies from the country also known as Burma.

“Our legislation would hold accountable the senior military officials responsible for the slaughter and displacement of innocent men, women and children in Burma, and make clear that the United States will not stand for these atrocities,” McCain said in a statement.

The tough proposals came as US President Donald Trump departed for an extended trip to Asia, where he will attend a summit with Southeast Asian nations including Myanmar.

The United States, while condemning the deadly violence that has prompted more than 600,000 people to flee to neighboring Bangladesh, has been careful to say it holds the military responsible, not Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s civilian government.

House Democrat Eliot Engel said lawmakers wanted to send a “clear message” with the targeted sanctions, both to the military and the civilian leadership, about the violence that has left hundreds of people dead. “This violence must stop, perpetrators must be held accountable, and there must be meaningful civilian control over Burma’s military and security forces,” Engel said.

Lawmakers also want Myanmar’s military to ensure safe return of refugees displaced from northern Rakhine State, where the military has been accused by the United Nations of a campaign of ethnic cleansing. “There will be consequences for their crimes against humanity,” said Senator Ben Cardin, a Democratic sponsor of the bill.

Myanmar officials could not immediately be reached for comment. But dealers in the gem industry - a lucrative sector that was under US sanctions until last October - shrugged off the threat, saying China was still the top buyer.

“If (sanctions) are reimposed, there will be no harm to us. We used to work under sanctions in the past as well,” Tun Hla Aung, secretary of Myanmar Gems and Jewellery Entrepreneurs Association, told AFP.

The fate of the legislation may rest in part with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a longtime friend and ally of embattled Suu Kyi.

The two politicians spoke by telephone in September, when she assured McConnell she was working to get aid to Rohingya Muslims.

McConnell defended the Nobel peace laureate after the call, warning that “publicly condemning Aung San Suu Kyi, the best hope for democratic reform in Burma, is not constructive”.

Suu Kyi has been hammered by the international community for failing to use her moral power to speak up in defence of the Rohingya.

Meanwhile, the US wants Myanmar to repatriate hundreds of thousands of Rohingya in their own villages following their exodus from the country’s violence-wracked Rakhine state for Bangladesh, a senior State Department official said Saturday in Dhaka.

Simon Henshaw, acting US assistant secretary of state who visited refugee camps in southeast Bangladesh, said Myanmar should also punish those who committed atrocities in Rakhine.

More than 600,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh since late August carrying accounts of murder, rape and arson at the hands of Myanmar’s powerful army during a military crackdown dubbed as “ethnic cleansing” by the UN.

They have taken refuge in squalid camps in southeast Bangladesh, joining the more than 200,000 Rohingyas who had set up homes there after escaping earlier bouts of violence.

“First of all, it is (Myanmar’s) responsibility to return security and stability to Rakhine state. Secondly, it’s their responsibility to investigate reports of atrocities and bring those who committed them to accountability,” Henshaw told reporters in Dhaka.

“Part of bringing people back to Rakhine state requires these people be allowed to return to their land.... And for those whose villages are burnt, quick efforts need to be made to restore their homes and their villages,” he said.

After weeks of intense global pressure, Myanmar agreed to take back Rohingya who meet “verification” standards. But the criteria remains vague, raising fears it will be used to restrict the number of returnees.

Experts say repatriation will also be complicated by the scale of destruction in Rakhine, where hundreds of Rohingya villages have been reduced to ash.

Relief workers say some refugees have expressed a reluctance to return if it would mean living in camp-like settlements or being barred from occupying the land they had before.

US lawmakers on Friday proposed sanctions against Myanmar’s military, in some of the strongest efforts yet by Washington to pressure the Southeast Asian nation to end abusive treatment of the Muslim minority.

Myanmar authorities say the security crackdown was in response to attacks by Rohingya militants on police posts in late August.

For decades, the Rohingya have faced discrimination in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, where they are denied citizenship and denigrated as illegal “Bengali” immigrants.