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Don’t call it Burma it’s Myanmar - military rulers rebuke Aung San Suu Kyi over European tour


Aung San Suu Kyi

Aung San Suu Kyi

Aung San Suu Kyi

AUNG San Suu Kyi has been warned to stop calling her country 'Burma' during her overseas visits and use its official name 'Myanmar' in an editorial in a state-owned newspaper.

The country has been officially known as Myanmar since 1989 when its military rulers decided the name 'Burma' was a legacy of British colonial rule which reflected the domination of its majority Burman tribe. The name Myanmar has deeper and more inclusive history, they said.

But the National League for Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her supporters ignored the change on the grounds that it was imposed by a military junta and continue to use 'Burma.'

In a speech on the lawn of her Rangoon villa during her by-election campaign earlier this year, she joked that foreigners should continue to use 'Burma' because 'Myanmar' was too difficult for them to pronounce correctly.

Her repeated use of the old name Burma during her visit to Ireland, Britain and Norway this month has irked senior government figures who reprimanded her publicly in the official New Light of Myanmar newspaper earlier this week.

A statement by the state Election Commission suggested she was in breach of the country's constitution by using the country's former official name. Daw Suu, as the paper calls refers to her, had sworn allegiance to the constitution when she became a member of parliament following her party's landslide victory in a series of by-elections last April.

"The state shall be known as The Republic of the Union of Myanmar', no one has the right to call (the country) Burma. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi called Myanmar 'Burma' in her speech to the World Economic Forum in Thailand on 1 June, 2012," the statement said, and "again, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi called Myanmar 'Burma' in her speeches during her Europe tour," it added.

Britain, the United States and other Western countries continue to call the country 'Burma' in unofficial statements in support of Aung San Suu Kyi's democracy movement, but there have been growing calls for them to recognise the country's official name now its former military rulers appear to have embraced a fast paced programme of democratic reforms, including political prisoner releases, trade union rights, press freedoms and free and fair elections.

Derek Tonkin, Britain's former ambassador to Thailand and chairman of the Network Myanmar group has suggested Britain and the United States could now recognise the name Myanmar as a concession to acknowledge its progress towards greater democracy. The group, which was formed to campaign for political reform and international engagement with the country, believes the term Myanmar was endorsed in the 2008 referendum on its new constitution, in which 98 per cent voted.

Most countries are waiting for Aung San Suu Kyi to make a statement, but he believes change is now inevitable. "The Australians have started using Myanmar, the Americans have hinted at it, and I suspect Britain will be the last to change. But I think by the end of the year Myanmar will be accepted unless something happens," he said.