Myanmar parliament rails at UN's Ban Ki Moon over Rohingya comments

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon speaks during a press conference at the Gaza Donor Conference in Cairo on Oct 12, 2014, aimed at helping the Gaza Strip pummelled by the 50-day war between Israel and Hamas militants earlier this year. --
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon speaks during a press conference at the Gaza Donor Conference in Cairo on Oct 12, 2014, aimed at helping the Gaza Strip pummelled by the 50-day war between Israel and Hamas militants earlier this year. -- PHOTO: AFP

YANGON (AFP) - Myanmar's parliament Friday lambasted UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon for using the term 'Rohingya', accusing him of interfering in the country's affairs during a visit this week that has kicked off fresh furore over the Muslim minority.

The issue of the identity of the Rohingya, who mainly live in western Rakhine State, is incendiary in Myanmar.

Several bouts of religious violence between Muslims and Buddhist ethnic Rakhines left scores dead and more than 140,000 in fetid displacement camps - mainly Rohingya.

Many Burmese insist the Rohingya are illegal migrants from Bangladesh and give them the derogative label "Bengali", even though many of the Muslim group can trace their ancestry back generations in the former junta-ruled nation.

On Thursday Ban raised the "serious humanitarian issue" of the plight of the group, who have scarce access to public services, employment and healthcare, on the sidelines of a summit in Myanmar's capital.

"I encouraged the leaders of Myanmar to uphold human rights, take a strong stance against incitement and ensure humanitarian access to Rohingya living in vulnerable conditions," he told reporters in Naypyidaw.

US President Barack Obama, who left Myanmar Friday after a two-night trip, pressed the case for minority rights, particularly of Muslims - although he demurred from using the term Rohingya in front of his hosts despite having used it liberally before entering the country.

Parliament on Friday led the backlash against Ban's comments.

"Using the term 'Rohingya' - which cannot be accepted or acknowledged by our people - is an insult to our sovereignty," Thein Nyunt, a lower house MP told AFP, who submitted an emergency proposal to both chambers of parliament rejecting Ban's speech.

"Stating the existence of an ethnic group which really doesn't exist is against Myanmar law," he said, adding it Ban's comments were likely to re-ignite violence in tinderbox Rakhine.

The motion - which is largely symbolic - was adopted unopposed by both houses.

Most Rohingya are denied citizenship by the Myanmar government, which does not include the term in its list of official ethnic minorities.

Just ahead of his visit Obama expressed concerns over the rights of Myanmar's Muslim minority groups and told a press conference Friday that "we are paying attention to how religious minorities are treated in this country".

"Any legitimate government has to be based on a recognition that people are equals under the law," he added.

As he delivered those comments he was flanked by opposition leader and democracy champion Aung San Suu Kyi, who has come under fire for failing to unequivocally condemn violence against Muslims or fight against policies rights groups say discriminate against the Rohingya.

Conditions in the Rakhine displacement camps are so dire that 100,000 Rohingya are estimated to have fled south, often in rickety boats.

Rights groups say many are vulnerable to trafficking gangs in Thailand and Malaysia.