The Rohingya people of Myanmar have long been despised and persecuted as a Muslim minority in a majority-Buddhist country. Now, they are being slaughtered.

A brutal campaign of terror has driven more than 600,000 of the Rohingya to flee the country to neighboring Bangladesh, and a political and humanitarian crisis is rapidly unfolding. The United Nations calls it "a textbook case of ethnic cleansing."

The exodus was sparked by a disturbing escalation of long-simmering tensions between Myanmar's majority-Buddhist military and civilian government and the Rohingya people, who since 1982 have been stripped of their citizenship and classified as stateless by the government.

On Aug. 25, a small group of Rohingya insurgents attacked a number of police posts in Myanmar's northern Rakhine State. As retaliation, the military - backed by local Buddhist mobs - began burning Rohingya villages and attacking and killing people, according to international human rights workers who have witnessed the atrocities.

The Rohingya people began fleeing toward Bangladesh, where they are joining more than 300,000 who had already fled previous waves of violence. And now, as with other crises - Rwanda, Syria, South Sudan - a juggernaut of refugees in Bangladesh and Myanmar poses severe health risks as clean water, food and safe shelter are scarce.

Myanmar's civilian government, led by Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, has been too quiet on the plight of the Rohingya. Suu Kyi, hailed as the Nelson Mandela of Asia for her political activism and decades spent under house arrest, shares power with the military. The civilian government she leads has stymied U.N. efforts to document the brutality against the Rohingya, and Suu Kyi has told diplomats she's frustrated with the U.N.'s human rights arm. She is in a delicate political position, but her reluctance to speak out forcefully against the violence has allowed a slaughter to continue unchecked.

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The European Union has done little. And the U.N. Security Council is paralyzed, with Russia and China blocking action against Myanmar.

In such a vacuum, the U.S. must step forward and lead efforts toward a resolution.

As Trump departs for his first presidential visit to Asia, he should denounce the attacks against the Rohingya people. The U.S. should reinstate strong sanctions against both the civilian and military arms of the Myanmar government and put pressure on Suu Kyi to intervene to end the violence.

This editorial was written by the Chicago Tribune Editorial Board.

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