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    Suu Kyi spokesman: “There is no Rohingya”

    Nyan Win the
    National League of Democracy spokesperson Photo: @AFP

    As advocates
    condemn “ethnic cleansing” of the Rohingya, officials say no such
    group exists.

    YANGON, Myanmar —
    From the depths of obscurity, Myanmar’s highly beleaguered Muslim Rohingya
    ethnicity has become something of a global cause célèbre.

    The United Nations
    deems the roughly 1 million population group one of the world’s “most
    persecuted” minorities. In a report last week, Human Right Watch deployed some
    of the most potent language at its disposal in describing their mistreatment:
    “ethnic cleansing” and “crimes against humanity.” The online pro-Rohingya call
    to arms #RohingyaNOW was, for a brief blip in March, Twitter’s highest-trending

    Even US President
    Barack Obama, in his first and only visit to Myanmar last November, urged the
    nation to accept that Rohingya “hold within themselves the same dignity as you

    But these are lofty
    expectations from a nation in which the government, much of the general public
    and even progressive activist circles contend that Rohingya is a contrived
    ethnicity that does not exist — at least not as the people who call themselves
    Rohingya and their foreign sympathizers believe they do.

    This week, the
    government released its official account of Myanmar’s most explosive violence
    in recent years: a 2012 wave of killing, maiming and arson sprees waged in
    large part by Buddhists bent on ridding their native Rakhine State of the
    Rohingya. But nowhere in the official English translation does the word
    “Rohingya” appear. The minority is instead described as “Bengali,” the native
    people of neighboring Bangladesh.The report insists the stateless group largely
    descend from farmers led over during Britishoccupation of Myanmar (then titled
    Burma) in the early 1800s. They are described as procreating heavily, failing
    to assimilate and inviting over their kin to the dismay of helpless local
    Buddhists living under colonial rule. Myanmar’s authorities have since reversed
    the British empire’s policy: The Rohingya are now considered non-citizens even
    though their alleged homeland, Bangladesh, does not accept them either.

    Treating this
    native-born population as invaders is roundly condemned around the globe. The
    Rohingya, like many persecuted groups before them, have pleaded for support
    from Aung San Suu Kyi. The 67-year-old parliamentarian, beloved for challenging
    Myanmar’s despotic generals, is traditionally seen as a voice of Myanmar’s

    But in an interview
    with GlobalPost, the Nobel Peace Laureate’s spokesman and confidante, Nyan Win,
    confirmed that Aung San Suu Kyi has no plans to champion the Rohingya cause
    despite criticism swirling around her silence on the crisis.

    “So many people
    blame The Lady,” said Nyan Win, using a nickname for Aung San Suu Kyi made
    popular during Myanmar’s police state era, when speaking her name in public
    could attract unwelcome government attention.

    “For example, in
    the Rakhine case, she very rarely says anything about this. She says she was
    forced to speak about the Rohingya group,” Nyan Win said. “She believes, in
    Burma, there is no Rohingya ethnic group. It is a made-up name of the Bengali.
    So she can’t say anything about Rohingya. But there is international pressure
    for her to speak about Rohingya. It’s a problem.”


    Compared to the
    officials’ previous rhetoric on the Rohingya — a junta-era official publicly
    called them “ugly as ogres” — the government’s new report strikes a much more
    empathetic tone.

    In pursuit of
    “peaceful coexistence,” it recommends expanding psychological counseling,
    boosting the troop presence, banning hate speech and improving makeshift camps
    for displaced people in advance of a looming monsoon downpour. 

    Some “Bengalis,”
    according to the report, may even be considered for citizenship if they can
    prove “knowledge of the country, local customs and language.”

    explosions of violence last summer and fall, in which entire Muslim-majority
    quarters were torched and razed, roughly 100,000 people are still huddled in
    crowded, squalid camps. The official death toll in Rakhine State stands at 194;
    Rohingya activists claim far more.
    The killings,
    according to the report, were racked up by tit-for-tat attacks fueled by
    long-simmering cultural feuds: “The earlier hatred and bitterness between the
    two sides — which had been created because of certain historical events —
    provided fertile ground for renewed tensions, mistrust and violence.”

    Missing from the
    inquiry are the sickening scenes detailed in the latest Human Rights Watch
    investigation into the violence: mass graves, trucks piled high with stinking
    corpses and children hacked to