The waters off Sittwe are often treacherous. Source: Wikimedia
Buddhist monks and several hundred other protesters have marched on the US Embassy in Yangon to demand it stop using the term “Rohingya” to refer to the embattled Muslim ethnic minority group.
The protesters demanded that the group be called “Bengalis” as they regard them as illegal migrants from across the border with Bangladesh.
“We cannot accept the US Embassy’s expression of ‘Rohingya’, which does not exist not only in Myanmar but in the world. ‘Bengalis’ must be called ‘Bengali’. Rohingyas do not exist at all. If the US government has sympathy for them, they can be taken to the US,” said one protester.
The US Embassy used the term “Rohingya” in a message of sympathy after dozens died when a crowded boat capsized in rough seas near state capital Sittwe.
The US message, released on April 20, said: “We were saddened by the news about those who tragically lost their lives after a boat capsized near Thae Chaung in Sittwe Township on April 19 and we extend our condolences to the families of the victims, who local reports state were from the Rohingya community.”
The protesters presented a letter to embassy staff.
“We are protesting against the US Embassy’s use of ‘Rohingya’ in its statement over the death of ‘Bengalis’ in a boat accident in Sittwe Township, Rakhine State,” said Magway Monastery abbot U Pamaukkha, one of the protest leaders.
The demonstrators carried placards reading “No more use of the term ‘Rohingya’. US Embassy get out if you say more” and “All those inventing the fake term and the fake ethnic group are our enemies”.
The Rohingya were reportedly forced to use the boat in rough waters to reach Sittwe to buy provisions because they were prevented from road travel.
Buddhist nationalists have been stirring up prejudice against Rohingya and other Muslims in recent years.
Myanmar does not officially recognise the Rohingya as an ethnic group and denies most of them citizenship and electoral rights in their native Rakhine State, which borders Bangladesh.
Conflict over land and resources in the state, where most of the estimated 1 million Rohingya live, sparked anti-Muslim riots in 2012 which spread across the country. More than 100,000 Rohingya fled their homes and now live in desperate refugee camps.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s new government has so far failed to take action to help the oppressed minority, disappointing activists who supported her during her long struggle for democracy.