SHAFAQNA – Several hundred people marched in Myanmar’s commercial capital Yangon on Sunday to protest the government’s new term to describe the stateless Muslim minority group in western Rakhine state.
The government presented a proposal last month to the Human Rights Council in Geneva that the “Muslim community in Rakhine state” should be used instead of the controversial terms “Rohingya” or “Bengali” to describe the approximately 1 million Muslims in Myanmar.
Bengali, a term used by most Myanmar people, suggests that the self-identified Rohingya Muslims in troubled Rakhine state are not members of country’s 135 ethnic groups, but illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh.
About 500 people, including monks from the Buddhist nationalist Organisation for Protection of Race and Religion, better known as Ma Ba Tha for its Burmese acronym, were marching from the central Shwedagon pagoda to demand the government use the term “Bengali.”
The 1 million or so Rohingya Muslims in western Rakhine state are described by the UN as the world’s most persecuted minority group.
“We can’t accept the use of new term for these illegal immigrants. That’s why we joined the march,” said 24-year-old engineering student Kaung Wai Yan. “I am a Rakhine Buddhist. I know there are ethnic Muslim groups in Rakhine state, like the Kaman. But Bengali is different from them. They are not our ethnicity. They are not our citizens,” Kaung Wai Yan told journalists as he and his seven friends joined the march.
“They are Bengali. They must be called Bengali,” he shouts.
The Kaman, or Kamein, are Muslims and belong to an ethnic group in Rakhine that is officially recognised by the government. Organiser Win Ko Ko Latt of the Myanmar National Network said the government must cancel the proposed new term for Bengali Muslims in Rakhine state.
“The government should be wise in handling the Rakhine issue. No one would accept the new term,” he said. “They would face a series of demonstrations until they revoke the term and call them Bengali. We are planning a march in Mawlamyaing of Mon state next week.”
Thousands joined the marches across Rakhine last week over the issue