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Aung San Suu Kyi's government rejects term 'Rohingya'

Myanmar Foreign Minister and State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi looks on during a meeting with Laos President Bounnhang Vorachit in Vientiane, Laos. CREDIT: EPA/STR

By Andrew Marszal
The Telegraph
May 8, 2016

New Delhi -- The Burmese foreign ministry led by Aung San Suu Kyi has told foreign diplomats to stop using the word “Rohingya”, prompting accusations that it has abandoned the minority Muslim community.

The foreign ministry sent an advisory to embassies in Rangoon this week warning them against the term, which is used by the stateless Muslim group to self-identify, but is rejected by the country’s nationalist Buddhist wing who view the Rohingya as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

“We have never accepted this term,” Kyaw Zay Ya, a retired lieutenant-colonel who was elected as an MP for Ms Suu Kyi’s party last year and now serves in the foreign ministry, told the Wall Street Journal.

He added that “it is not possible to enforce” the directive, and would be up to foreign governments to decide.

The memo indicates that the position of the ministry on the term “Rohingya” is the same under the leadership of 1991 Nobel Peace Prize winner Ms Suu Kyi as it was under the previous military junta.

Burma Task Force, a coalition of 19 Muslim groups, on Thursday accused Ms Suu Kyi of having “caved to the hate message of extremist Buddhist protesters”.

Last month, Buddhist monks joined several hundred protesters outside the US embassy in Rangoon on Thursday to demand it stop using the term “Rohingya”.

Ms Suu Kyi has been widely criticised for failing to stand up for the Rohingya’s rights since coming to power, and has herself never used the term publicly. Fellow Nobel laureates Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama have both signalled their concern about her silence on the fate of the Rohingya.

For the more than one million Rohingya who live in Burma, mainly along its western border with Bangladesh and India, the term is extremely politically loaded.

It represents that fact that the group are not considered Burmese citizens. Instead, they are referred to in the rest of the country as “Bengalis”, implying that they are largely illegal interlopers from neighbouring Bangladesh.

It comes as a Burmese activist was arrested for claiming on Facebook that Min Aung Hliang, the country's army chief, did not seize power because he wants to marry Ms Suu Kyi.


Aung San Suu Kyi

Ms Suu Kyi Pic: Getty Images

Position: Leader of the National League for Democracy, Burma’s main opposition party
Born:June 19, 1945
Education: University of Delhi and St Hugh’s College, Oxford

Who is she?

The daughter of Burma’s assassinated independence hero Ms Suu Kyi was living quietly in Oxford with her husband, a British academic, and their two sons when she returned to her homeland in 1988 to care for her sick mother.

Early political career?

She quickly emerged as the leader of a popular democracy uprising against the military junta and spent 15 years under house arrest by Burma’s general in three stints between 1989 and 2011. She was awarded the Nobel Peace prize in absentia and became the world's most famous political prisoner.


Her party has won a majority in Burma's parliament after a historic election. But she will still be barred by the constitution from becoming president because of her foreign family ties.

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