Report says government minister asked US embassy to refrain from using term during high-level talks
World Bulletin / News Desk
Myanmar’s foreign ministry has reportedly advised the United States embassy in the country to avoid further use of the term “Rohingya”, following pressure from Buddhist nationalists.
Protesters are due to march on the embassy in commercial capital Yangon on Thursday to campaign against its use of the term in a recent statement, following a similar unauthorized protest last week.
Nationalists use the term “Bengali” to refer to the Muslim ethnicity, as it suggests that they are not from Myanmar as they claim but interlopers from neighboring Bangladesh.
On Wednesday, the Myanmar Times reported a government minister as saying that the embassy was asked to refrain from using the term during high-level talks.
“We told them that the use of the term by the U.S. embassy is not supportive of national reconciliation in Myanmar,” Soe Lynn Han, deputy director general of the ministry, was quoted as saying.
“They said they have noted the request.”
When asked by the Times reporter whether this was the new government’s official policy on the use of the word, Soe Lynn Han remained tight-lipped.
“I can say only that this [request to the U.S.] was the policy of the minister – Daw Aung San Suu Kyi,” he added, using an local honorific to refer to Suu Kyi, the governing party’s leader.
Anadolu Agency was unable to reach the ministry or the U.S embassy for further comment.
The embassy used the term in an April statement to express U.S. concern about a group of people who drowned after a boat capsized off the coast of western Rakhine State.
Communal violence between ethnic Buddhists and Muslims in Rakhine in 2013 left 57 Muslims and 31 Buddhists dead, around 100,000 people displaced in camps and more than 2,500 houses burned — most of which belonged to Rohingya.
In its statement, the U.S. embassy extended condolences to the families of the victims, adding that local reports had said that they were “Rohingya”.
“Restrictions on access to markets, livelihoods, and other basic services in Rakhine State can lead to communities unnecessarily risking their lives in an attempt to improve their quality of life,” it added.
The ethnicity of those who died is now however in doubt, as a Myanmar Times reporter recently told Anadolu Agency that he and his colleague had unearthed evidence that proved that most of the dead were Kaman Muslims, not Rohingya, from the same camp.
On April 28, several hundred Buddhist nationalists staged an unauthorized demonstration outside the embassy to protest the use of the term.
Those present included monks from Ma Ba Tha — the Committee for Protection of Race and Religion.
“International diplomats should take care using such controversial terms [as Rohingya],” Pamaukkha — a prominent Ma Ba Tha monk — told Anadolu Agency after the demonstration.
“They are Bengali – illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. We don’t have a Rohingya ethnicity here. We would never accept them as one of our ethnic groups,” he said.
In an interview with Voice of America on the same day, U.S Ambassador Scot Marciel said “Normally, we would call them what they ask to be called. It is not political decision, just normal practice.”
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