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Myanmar Wants US to Stop Calling Minority Group ‘Rohingya’


 A boy searches for useful items among the ashes of burnt down dwellings after a fire destroyed shelters at a camp for internally displaced Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar's western Rakhine State near Sittwe, May 3, 2016.

A boy searches for useful items among the ashes of burnt down dwellings after a fire destroyed shelters at a camp for internally displaced Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar's western Rakhine State near Sittwe, May 3, 2016.

A Myanmar government official says the country wants the U.S. Embassy to stop using the term “Rohingya” to refer to the nation’s mainly Muslim minority.

The official, Myanmar’s permanent secretary for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Aung Lin, spoke to VOA on Wednesday.

He said Myanmar would prefer that the U.S. Embassy no longer use the term because it is not helpful to the government. Myanmar’s government claims that those calling themselves Rohingya are Bengalis who entered the country illegally.

But the U.S. Ambassador to Myanmar, Scot Marciel, said during a press conference last week that the United States does not plan to stop using the term.

He said communities all over the world should be able to choose for themselves what name they are called.

“The normal U.S. practice and the normal international practice is that communities anywhere have the right, or have the ability to decide what they are going to be called. And normally when that happens, we would call them what they asked to be called. It’s not a political decision, it’s just a normal practice.”

The name “Rohingya” was chosen by the mainly Muslim minority itself. Members are mostly based in Myanmar’s western Rakhine state.

Myanmar, a predominantly Buddhist country, has been criticized for its treatment of the Muslim minority. Many Rohingya people are not given citizenship and are denied other basic human rights.

Nationalists in Myanmar criticized the U.S. Embassy after it issued a statement of condolence for a recent accident during which as many as 40 Rohingya drowned.

The victims were killed while traveling to a market and a hospital from a camp for internally displaced people in Rakhine state.

The embassy statement linked the accident to restrictions on basic services in the state. It said the restrictions can lead community members to risk their lives in search of better living conditions.

Some foreign observers had expressed hope that the plight of the Rohingya community might improve after Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s party took power last month.

But others noted that neither Aung San Suu Kyi nor her National League for Democracy party gave clear signs that policies would change regarding the Rohingya people.

U.N. agencies estimate one-tenth of the Rohingya population has fled Myanmar since 2012, when an outbreak of religious violence left more than 200 people dead.

I’m Bryan Lynn.

Steve Herman reported on this story for VOANews.com. Bryan Lynn adapted this story for Learning English. Kelly Jean Kelly was the editor.

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Words in This Story

practice – n. something that is regularly done, often as a habit, tradition or custom

predominantly – adv. mainly; for the most part

condolence – n. an expression of sympathy

displace – v. to force people to leave their homes, especially due to war, persecution or natural disaster

plight – n. a dangerous, difficult or unfortunate situation

outbreak – n. a sudden increase of fighting or disease

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