Major General Maung Maung Ohn, Rakhine State Chief Minister, said in letter sent to UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon on November 13 that by using the name the UN risked undoing reconciliation efforts undertaken by the government and sowing further distrust.
“I am concerned that your statement yesterday could further inflame local sentiment and undo previous gains we have achieved, which is very unfortunate given the timing and opportunities presented to us,” the letter said.
Mr Ban said on November 12 that the government needed to ensure further protections for the Muslim minority group or risk the reforms’ process stalling.
“I encourage the leaders of Myanmar to uphold human rights, take a strong stance against incitement and ensure humanitarian access to Rohingya living in vulnerable conditions,” Mr Ban said on the sidelines of the ASEAN Summit in Nay Pyi Taw, following meetings with senior government officials, including Vice President Dr Sai Mauk Kham.
The term Rohingya is used by the UN and most members of the international community, but is not recognized by the Myanmar government. Myanmar officials refer to the group instead as ‘Bengali’ and insist that they are illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh.
Rohingya is not a recognized ethnic group under the country’s 1982 Citizenship Law. A controversial citizenship verification plan launched by the government in June insists that Rohingya must identify as Bengali if they wish to receive even partial citizenship rights. Those who refuse risk being moved to IDP camps before being resettled, according to a draft of an action plan for the state. The plan has been sharply criticized by human rights groups.
Social media outlet Facebook has been flooded with disparaging images of Mr Ban and demands for him the leave the country since reports of his use of Rohingya were published last night. One popular picture shows Mr Ban with a larg red “x” superimposed over his face. Other cartoons depicted urinating on the Secretary General.
The UN has faced difficulty operating in Rakhine State over the past two years due to Rakhine Buddhists who feel that the work of the group, as well as other NGOs and INGOS is biased in favor of Muslims living in the state.
Maj. Gen. Maung Maung Ohnn wrote in his letter that “the international community’s continued use of the word Rohingya had fuelled these tensions and alienated the Rakhine population.”
Maj. Gen. Maung Maung Ohn, the former deputy minister for border affairs, was appointed as Rakhine State Chief Minister by President U Thein Sein in June following the resignation of U Hla Maung Tin.
Rumors of U Hla Maung Tin’s resignation had swirled since March when the offices of UN and INGO operations in the Rakhine State capital of Sittwe were targeted by Rakhine Buddhist mobs.
The attacks forced aid workers to flee from the state. Many have since returned.
Mr Ban is scheduled to meet today with President U Thein Sein and National League for Democracy Chairperson Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.