Myanmar lambasts UN official for using term 'Rohingya'

- Gov't insists persecuted Muslim minority are illegal immigrants, demands they identify as 'Bengali'

By Joshua Carroll

YANGON, Myanmar (AA) - Myanmar’s Foreign Ministry lashed out at a United Nations official Wednesday for her use of the term "Rohingya" to describe a persecuted Muslim minority that the government want to classify as "Bengali".

Wrangling over what name should be used for Myanmar's roughly one million Rohingya has marred several recent visits to the Buddhist majority country by members of the U.N.

The U.N. Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, used the term last month following her trip to western Rakhine state, where the majority of the mostly stateless people live.

The government insists that they are illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh, and is demanding they identify as "Bengali" as part of a citizenship verification scheme.

Rohingya, however, say their ancestors arrived in Myanmar centuries ago.

In a statement published in the state-run Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper, the Foreign Ministry said the U.N.’s use of the term "Rohingya" “would certainly draw strong resentment of the people of Myanmar making the government's efforts more difficult in addressing the issue.”

During her visit Yanghee Lee toured squalid camps that are home to tens of thousands of Rohingya displaced by religious rioting in 2012.

She deplored conditions in the camps and urged people not to be fixated by the use of either of the two terms.

“Without wanting to invalidate either perspective, I would like to suggest that this fixation on which word to use has paralyzed progress on important issues,” she said in a statement following her visit.

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