YANGON — A coalition of 20 political parties led by the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) called on the Myanmar government to declare to the international community that there is “no Rohingya ethnicity” in the country.
Party representatives—largely from minor groups currently unrepresented in Parliament, including the Democratic Party Myanmar, National Democratic Force, and the National Development Party—discussed issues in northern Rakhine State on Monday at the USDP head office in Yangon. After the talks, they signed the statement, which contained four demands: improve general security in the region, provide increased security for government staff, enforce the 2014 counter-terrorism law, and reject the term “Rohingya” to describe a population of more than 1 million Muslims.
The self-identifying Rohingya are widely labeled throughout Myanmar as “Bengali,” implying that they are immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh, rather than belonging to Rakhine State.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimated in May that 168,000 Rohingya had fled violence and persecution Myanmar in the last five years, mostly seeking refuge in Bangladesh and Malaysia. Most recently, following militant attacks on police outposts in October 2016, Myanmar security forces carried out clearance operations in Rakhine State, displacing nearly 70,000 Rohingya to Bangladesh.
Myanmar State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has been criticized for not speaking out on behalf of the group, and has previously labeled both the terms “Rohingya” and “Bengali” as “emotive.” She told UN Special Envoy for Human Rights in Myanmar Yanghee Lee in June 2016 that these “controversial terms should be avoided.”
Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Tuesday, USDP central executive committee member U Hla Thein chastised the international community for “complaining about human rights violations to the government” while “ethnic Rakhine and members of the security forces are being killed by militant terrorists.”
In early August, seven ethnic Mro—a sub-ethnicity of the Buddhist Arakanese in the region—were found dead of gunshot and machete wounds in the Mayu mountains of Maungdaw Township in northern Rakhine State. While no one has been arrested for the murders, local sources have said they suspect militants active in the borderlands of committing the murders.
Hundreds of troops were deployed to Rakhine State last week after a meeting between military commander-in-chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing and a seven-member delegation from the Arakan National Party (ANP) in Naypyitaw.
The Irrawaddy reported on Monday that the Myanmar military gave a verbal order to villagers in the state’s northern townships to avoid entering the Mayu mountains for any reason, in order to “avoid fatalities” while they conduct clearance operations in the area.
U Hla Thein told The Irrawaddy that the recent mission “was not enough, if further attacks potentially happen in the area.”