Myanmar: Objections to new term for Rohingya build
Military-backed opposition adds voice to those saying will not use 'Muslim Community in Rakhine State' to describe Rohingya
Myanmar's military-backed opposition has endorsed an ethnic nationalist party's defiance of a government order, saying Thursday that it too will not use the term "Muslim Community in Rakhine State" to describe the country's persecuted Muslim ethnic minority, the Rohingya.
The Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) has previously refused to accept the word "Rohingya," instead using the word "Bengali" to describe the around one million stateless Muslims, who have been described by the United Nations as the most persecuted minority group in the world.
The USDP said in a statement Thursday that the government needs to cooperate with ethnic people and political parties to address issues in Rakhine -- the country's western-most state -- where a majority of the Rohingya live in internally displaced people camps.
“The Arakan National Party (ANP) said they do not accept the term 'Muslim Community in Rakhine State'. The government must reflect the attitude of the ethnic people and political parties in the region,” the USDP -- the party of ex-President Thein Sein -- said.
Arakanese -- the people of Rakhine State -- refer to the state as Arakan (the area's name from British colonial times), while the rest of the country calls the state Rakhine.
Sein's USDP-led government -- which ruled from 2010 until earlier this year -- had also refused to accept "Rohingya", which the Muslim ethnic group identify as, while nationalists prefer to use the term "Bengali" to describe them as it suggests they are interlopers from neighboring Bangladesh.
Earlier this week, State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi's government -- under pressure from both nationalists and rights groups -- tried to strike a balance, by ruling that the new term “Muslim Community in Rakhine State” should instead be used to describe the group.
On Tuesday, the powerful nationalist party ANP, which won the majority of seats in Rakhine in last year’s general election, said it was totally unacceptable to use the new term.
The statement insisted that such “illegal immigrants” had been listed under the category “Chittagonian” in censuses conducted during British colonial rule, and under “Bengali” in censuses taking by past governments in 1973, 1983 and 2014.
Chittagong is a town in southeastern Bangladesh.
“This new term would efface the origin of these Bengalis, and fabricate that these people are Rakhine natives,” it said.
The statement was released a day after Suu Kyi, who also serves as foreign minister, discussed the situation with United Nations Human Rights Envoy Yanghee Lee.
Lee met Rakhine Chief Minister Nyi Pu on Wednesday in state capital Sittwe and visited villages and displacement camps in Paunnagyun and Kyauktaw Townships, according to state media.
While there, the envoy expressed sorrow for losses caused by recent floods.
“However, I am very happy with the news that State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has given priority to the region’s [economic] development,” she was quoted as saying.
Lee is also reported to have expressed delight at the local government’s efforts to overcome "obstacles".
The envoy is set to meet Buddhist and Muslim community leaders in Sittwe on Thursday. The ANP, however, has turned down her invitation for a meeting, claiming that she never listens to "Rakhine" people.
“We don’t believe at all that she wants to try to understand the situation here. She never really listens to us. That’s why we refused to meet her,” ANP joint secretary Ba Swe told Anadolu Agency by phone Wednesday.