As war of words drags on, govern­ment in Rakhine State opts for term ‘Rakhine eth­nics’

The Myanmar Times - - News - NYAN LYNN AUNG nyan­lin­aung@mm­times.com

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

Photo: AFP

Bud­dhist monks take part in a demon­stra­tion against govern­ment ter­mi­nolo­gies in Sit­twe, Rakhine State, on July 3.

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