YANGON: Myanmar’s religious affairs ministry plans to write a book that the Rohingya are not indigenous to the country, as tensions grow over a brutal military crackdown on the Muslim minority.
Almost 27,000 Rohingya have crossed into Bangladesh since the beginning of November, the UN said on Tuesday, fleeing a bloody military campaign in Myanmar’s western Rakhine state.
Their stories of mass rape and murder at the hands of security forces have shocked the international community and cast a pall over the young government of Nobel peace prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi.
Myanmar has angrily rejected the criticism and called an emergency ASEAN meeting next week to discuss the crisis, which has sparked protests in Muslim nations in the region.
Late Monday, the country’s Ministry of Religion and Cultural Affairs announced plans to write a thesis to refute foreigners who “stir things up by insisting the Rohingya exist and (who) aim to tarnish Myanmar’s political image”.
“We hereby announce that we are going to publish a book of true Myanmar history,” the ministry said in a statement posted on Facebook late Monday.
“The real truth is that the word Rohingya was never used or existed as an ethnicity or race in Myanmar’s history.”
Myanmar’s more than one million Rohingya are loathed by many from the Buddhist majority, who say they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and refer to them as “Bengali” even though many have lived in the country for generations.
Even the term Rohingya has become so divisive that Suu Kyi has asked government officials to avoid using it. According to the ministry, the term was first used in 1948 by a “Bengali” MP.
Rights activists say the Rohingya are among the most persecuted people in the world.
They were removed as one of the country’s recognised ethnicities by the former military government under a 1982 law stipulating minorities must have lived in Myanmar before the first Anglo-Burmese war of 1824-26.
But Rohingya and Muslim historians reject the idea that they were slaves brought by the British, arguing their roots in Rakhine can be traced back hundreds of years.
More than 120,000 Rohingya were driven into displacement camps by sectarian clashes in 2012, where they live in conditions that rights groups have compared to apartheid South Africa.