THE newly-appointed U.S. envoy to Burma (Myanmar) Scot Marciel yesterday insisted that the persecuted Muslim minority in the country had the right call themselves ‘Rohingya’, despite the administration’s call to avoid using the term.
This was an apparent sign of the U.S. agreeing to disagree with the administration under de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi on what to call the oppressed community.
“They get to choose what they want to be called,” he was quoted as saying in Coconuts Yangon.
Marciel reiterated the U.S. stance that communities have a right to self-identify during his first public remarks at Yangon’s American Center, the website reported.
Many Buddhists inside Burma prefer to call them ‘Bengalis’, arguing that the million or so members of the minority are mostly illegal immigrants and not a native ethnic group. The families of many members of the minority have lived in Burma for generations.
Marciel explained that normal official U.S. practice is to call communities by the name they themselves prefer.
Burma’s foreign ministry official Aye Aye Soe acknowledged his office had asked Marciel to refrain from using the term ‘Rohingya.’
He said Marciel has the right to call the minority whatever he likes, but calling them Rohingya could enflame communal tensions.
However, Marciel had remained diplomatic throughout the engagement by not using the term himself.
It was reported on May 6 that the Foreign Ministry had issued an advisory to embassies to warn them against using the term.
Late last month, Buddhist monks joined several hundred protesters outside the U.S. Embassy in Burma to demand that it stop using the term ‘Rohingya’ to refer to the Muslim ethnic minority group.
Burma does not officially recognize the Rohingya as an ethnic group, and denies most of them citizenship and basic rights. Conflict over land in the western state of Rakhine, where most of the estimated one million Rohingya live, caused violence between Buddhists and Muslims, which later spread to other parts of the country.
The U.S. Embassy recently used the term ‘Rohingya’ in a statement of concern about their situation.
Additional reporting by Associated Press