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Burma: Military chief denies existence of ‘Rohingya’ term

Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, Commander in Chief of the Burmese military, shakes hands with National League for Democracy (NLD) leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Pic: AP.

By Asian Correspondent
May 16, 2016

A MILITARY chief in Burma (Myanmar) has denied the existence of the term “Rohingya” and said the country refuses to accept the term during a press conference on Friday.

During the press conference, Burmese newspaper The Union Daily asked Commander-in-Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing about unrest in the Rakhine State, as well as remarks made by the U.S. envoy about the Rohingya.

According to Eleven Myanmar, Min stated that there were no Rohingyas in Burma, only “Bengalis”, meaning people from Bangladesh who were sent to the Rakhine State after it was colonized by the British following the First Anglo-Burmese War of 1824.

Min was quoted saying: “They are large in number and have been called ‘Bengalis’. They were called Rohingyas under former prime minister U Nu to win their votes. It was illegal. The term Rohingya does not exist and we will not accept it.”

The commander-in-chief, who was formerly the regional commander of the state, emphasized the need for “unity” among Burma’s many ethnic groups, and said there could be no solution if conflict was not reduced.

When asked about the likelihood of a new Panglong conference, he said the army was ready to cooperate, adding: “We have to be united. It has to be a conference to show unity with good intentions and no attempt to gain political advantages.”

The Panglong conference refers to a historic conference that led to the Panglong Agreement, which was reached between the government of Aung San and the Shan, Kachin, and Chin peoples on 12 February 1947.

The agreement accepted “full autonomy in internal administration for the Frontier Areas” in principle and envisioned a federal union. It is celebrated as Union Day each year.

According to Min, the military will “not make problems if the ethnic armed groups stay in the places assigned to them”.

He added that the government “needs the army to protect it” and that the army would “fight anyone” if people’s lives or the government were put in danger.

Min also addressed the army’s position in Burma’s developing democracy, after five decades under military rule, saying the army is following the “guidance” of the government.

He said: “Although I am the military chief, the president is head of state. I am under the command of the president. I am not doing anything without his approval.

“The military is not in opposition and only pointed out the fact that Aung San Suu Kyi’s state counsellor role did not fit the rules and regulations … We will support Parliament if it is good for the country.”

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