As war of words drags on, government in Rakhine State opts for term ‘Rakhine ethnics’
A DAY after thousands of Buddhist nationalists staged protests across Rakhine State, the regional government issued a statement saying it would call the state’s Buddhist majority “Rakhine ethnics”, as controversy over terminology continues to simmer.
The announcement yesterday said the state government would drop the phrase “the Buddhist community in Rakhine State” – as had been previously suggested by State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s government – to refer to the ethnic Rakhine Buddhists in the state, after nationalist objections to the broader categorisation helped fuel the July 3 demonstrations.
U Tin Maung Swe, executive secretary for the General Administration Department of Rakhine State, said the state government would soon issue an additional statement about how Muslims in Rakhine State would be referred to. Anger over the new Union government’s proposal – that the groups self-identifying as Rohingya and Kaman be described as “the Muslim community in Rakhine State” – was another factor driving the weekend protests.
“I can’t say exactly what that is, and I can say keep waiting for that name at the moment,” U Tin Maung Swe told The Myanmar Times.
U Soe Naing, a nationalist activist, reiterated a Rakhine nationalist refrain that the Rakhine people would not accept the government’s hesitancy about using “Bengali” to refer to the state’s Muslim population that self-identifies as Rohingya.
“Bengalis are Bengalis. It means they came from Bangladesh. Therefore, the government must call them this name,” he said.
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, in referring more broadly to Muslim communities in Rakhine State, had sought to avoid both “Bengali” and “Rohingya”, which she has discouraged as “emotive” terms.
The July 3 protests saw thousands of Buddhists, including monks, turn out in a show of opposition to her preferred terminology.
The controversy over wording comes amid heightened anti-Muslim sentiment recently, with two mosques torched by Buddhist mobs in as many weeks, in a country where violence between Buddhists and Muslims has left scores dead since 2012.
“It is clear that tensions along religious lines remain pervasive across Myanmar society,” the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, said on July 1 at the conclusion of a 12-day visit to the country that included a trip to Rakhine State.
U Kyaw Min, a member of the class of parliamentarians elected in 1990 and denied their seats by the junta of the time – who is also a leader of the Muslim community in Rakhine State – said problems over terminology could be resolved by negotiation between opposing sides.
“I think it should not be – for one community to be denied [the ability to self-identify] by another community – because this is our own right to selfidentify,” he said.
‘Bengalis are Bengalis ... Therefore the government must call them this name.’ U Soe Naing Rakhine nationalist
Buddhist monks take part in a demonstration against government terminologies in Sittwe, Rakhine State, on July 3.