YANGON (BLOOMBERG) – Myanmar’s junta said the Rohingya is not one of its recognised ethnic races, fuelling doubt if the persecuted minority group will have access to citizenship anytime soon.

The shadow National Unity Government is speaking up for the Rohingya for political gain, Mr Zaw Min Tun, lead spokesman for the State Administration Council, said at a press conference on Saturday (June 12).

He said Rohingya is “just an imaginary name” for the group of people who described themselves as such, and repeatedly referred to them as “Bengalis.”

Under the previous government led by Ms Aung San Suu Kyi, who is now detained, Myanmar defended the military against accusations of perpetrating genocide on the mostly Muslim Rohingya from 2017, forcing more than 700,000 people to flee across the border to Bangladesh.

The military’s treatment of the Rohingya prompted the US to sanction top military leaders, damaged Ms Suu Kyi’s international reputation and soured the investment climate.

The Rohingya have been denied basic rights, including citizenship, while the authorities – including previous elected ones – have refused to even recognise them as Rohingya and called them “Bengali,” which they consider derogatory.

Nationalists describe the Rohingya as foreign interlopers and emphasise that during British colonial rule, starting in the 1820s, workers from Bengal, in what is now Bangladesh, arrived in Rakhine and the Muslim community grew significantly.

Earlier in June, the shadow government released its policy on the Rohingya, saying that they are entitled to citizenship by laws that would accord with fundamental human rights norms and democratic federal principles.

The military regime will allow citizenship to displaced people in accordance with its laws, and people from the 135 ethnic races recognised by the authorities and displaced people with evidence of living in the country can be citizens, Mr Zaw Min Tun said.

As at April, Myanmar has issued more than 250,000 identity cards to Rohingya people who live in the western Rakhine State, he said.

Myanmar’s military has struggled to wrangle control of the country since the Feb 1 coup due to a widespread civil disobedience movement comprising students, civil servants and even diplomats.

Security forces have killed more than 860 protesters and arrested more than 6,000, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.

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