07/04/2016, 09.18
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Rakhine State: thousands of Buddhists in the streets against the Rohingyas

Yangon has accepted the request of the United Nations and to indicate the Islamic minority will use the formula "the Muslim community of Arakan State". The nationalists want to call them instead "Bengali" to emphasize their being illegal migrants from Bangladesh.


Yangon (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Thousands of Buddhist residents of Arakan State took to the streets on Sunday with buddhist monks to protest against the government’s new term for those who self-identify as Rohingya.

The protests took place in 15 out of 17 townships of Arakan State (south-east) holding banners reading “Arakan State Belongs to the Arakanese,” and “Bengalis must be called Bengalis.”

The demonstrations were sparked by a request made by Burma’s representative to the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council on June 17: that the term “Muslim community in Arakan State” should be used instead of the contentious terms “Rohingya” or “Bengali”. The following week, during the UN’s special rapporteur on human rights in Burma visit, the Ministry of Information officially instructed state-owned publications to use the terms “the Muslim Community in Arakan State”.

Many Buddhist nationalists insist on calling the Rohingya “Bengali,” to suggest they are illegal migrants from Bangladesh, and consider the “Rohingya” label an illegitimate claim to belonging in Burma as a distinct ethnic group.  Members of the muslim minority they are not citizens of Myanmar, and many live in isolation, locked up in refugee camps. Thousands try to escape each year to other countries of Southeast Asia.

Prior to the weekend protests, Arakanese nationalist groups from Sittwe last week sent an open letter — signed by about 500 residents and 70 Buddhist monks — to President Htin Kyaw and State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi objecting to the government’s new terminology.

During a visit by US Secretary of State John Kerry on 22 May, The Lady said that the country needed “enough space” to deal with the Rohingya issue and cautioned against the use of “emotive terms” that she said were making the situation more difficult.

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