Burma’s Deputy Immigration and Population Minister Kyaw Kyaw Win denied the existence of the Rohingya ethnic group in Burma during a parliamentary session on Wednesday.
According to a back page report in today’s The New Light of Myanmar, Kyaw Kyaw Win made the statement twice in response to questions from MPs Maung Nyo of Sittwe and Daw Khin Saw Wai of Yathedaung, who also used the opportunity to unleash their own anti-Rohingya comments in front of the lower house.
Hours later, President’s Office Director Zaw Htay, under the name Hmuu Zaw, tweeted, “In today[‘s] Parliament, Deputy Minister for Immigration said there is no [Rohingya] ethnic in Myanmar” on the popular social networking site Twitter.
Zaw Htay has come under fire in the past for publishing anti-Rohingya comments on his Facebook page along with inflammatory pictures when sectarian violence rocked Arakan state last year.
“When government ministers deny Rohingya exist, and it is repeated by the office of the President, this encourages more prejudice and violence against Rohingya and all Muslims,” said Mark Farmaner, director at Burma Campaign UK.
“The international community can’t keep turning a blind eye to the fact that with statements like this President Thein Sein’s government is encouraging violence against the Rohingya.”
Ethno-religious riots exploded in June and October in the restive western state resulting in the displacement of tens of thousands of residents and left a disproportionate amount of Muslim villages razed to the ground.
Aid groups have struggled to deliver relief to the thousands of displaced Rohingya who are denied humanitarian assistance and not registered as internally displaced persons.
“The government has denied the Rohingya as an ethnic identity for decades, branding nearly all Muslims in Arakan State as illegal immigrants as a matter of discriminatory state policy,” said Matthew Smith, a researcher with Human Rights Watch.
Thein Sein’s government was heavily criticised last July after the president told a visiting delegation from the United Nation’s High Commissioner for Refugees that the government would not recognise the Rohingya and suggested resettling the population to a third country.
The deputy minister’s statement came as two Nobel laureates, former East Timor Leste President Jose Ramos-Horta and former Managing Director of Grameen Bank Muhammad Yunus, published a story in the Huffington Post yesterday calling for an end to the discrimination against the Rohingya minority.
“The charge that the Rohingya are illegal immigrants to Myanmar is false,” wrote the Nobel laureates.
“We ask the world to not look away, but to raise its collective voice in support of the Rohingya.”
Correction: Burma’s Deputy Immigration and Population Minister Kyaw Kyaw Win made the statement on Wednesday, not Tuesday as originally published.