The Arakan State government released a statement on Monday announcing that it would continue referring to the state’s ethnic Arakanese population simply as “Arakanese”, rejecting a term that has allegedly been put forward by the country’s Ministry of Information (MOI).
According to an MOI directive that has been circulating on social media, the government has called for the use of “the Buddhist community in Arakan” to refer to the Arakanese. The directive has caused an outcry in the state, but its authenticity has not been verified.
On Monday, Arakan State Development Minister Min Aung said the “Buddhist community” designation would not be used in the state.
“Last week, the Union Information Ministry in a report referred to the local people as the ‘Buddhist community in Arakan State’, and we are asserting our stance that we will continue using the term ‘Arakanese people’ in accordance with their wish,” said Min Aung.
The controversy appears to stem from earlier calls from the government to avoid using the term “Rohingya” to refer to a Muslim minority group living in the state. Ethnic Arakanese nationalists have protested repeatedly against the term, insisting that the Rohingya be called “Bengalis” — implying that they are illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh.
Despite efforts by the government to appease nationalists by replacing the term with less “divisive” alternatives, the issue of how to refer to the Rohingya — who are denied citizenship in Burma despite having lived in the country for generations — continues to provoke strong responses from local people.
On Sunday, residents of 15 townships in Arakan State staged simultaneous demonstrations objecting to the Burmese delegation to the UN Human Rights Council’s suggestion to refer to the Rohingya minority as “the Muslim community in Arakan State”.