Myanmar says Muslims will not be allowed to register as “Rohingya” in its first census in three decades despite UN assurances.
The move came as Buddhists in an unrest-hit western state vow to boycott the census over fears it could lead to official recognition for the Rohingya, viewed by the United Nations as among the world’s most persecuted minorities.
“If a household wants to identify themselves as ‘Rohingya’, we will not register it,” government spokesman Ye Htut told reporters in Yangon on Saturday.
He said people could call themselves “Bengali”, a term used by the authorities who view most Rohingya as illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh.
Foreign aid workers fled the restive western state of Rakhine last week after Buddhist mobs attacked their offices as tensions escalated in the run up to the census.
An 11-year-old girl was killed by a stray bullet after police fired warning shots to disperse angry crowds in the state capital Sittwe.
Humanitarian workers in the region have come under increasing pressure from Buddhist nationalists who accuse them of bias in favour of local Muslims.
The United Nations is pulling some 50 international and Myanmar staff from the region, while other major humanitarian groups are also removing their workers temporarily.
Households across Sittwe were seen on Saturday bearing signs declaring: “This house is protesting against the census. Do not register”.
Myanmar’s first census since 1983, which is set to begin on Sunday and last for 12 days, is backed by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and is aimed at plugging an information deficit in the former junta-run country.