Burmese challenge minister over name
By Lincoln Tan
New Zealand Herald
4:00AM Tuesday Mar 03, 2009
Burmese campaigners are lobbying the New Zealand Government to call their home country by its former name of Burma – not Myanmar.
Murray McCully, now Foreign Minister, criticised the Labour-led Government last May, when he was in opposition, for referring to the country as Myanmar, and the National Council for the Union of Burma now wants him to honour his call to recognise the country by its former name.
The name was changed from “the Union of Burma” to “the Union of Myanmar” in 1989 by the military Government, and since then has been the subject of controversy.
“This would be seen as a very important signal of your Government's support for the restoration of democracy in Burma,” the group said in a letter to the minister.
Council director Naing Ko Ko said that representatives would be travelling to Wellington to also seek a trade embargo and an extension of the visa ban to include all businesses with links to the junta.
Mr McCully said last year: “After witnessing the appalling indifference of Burma's military leadership to the welfare of its cyclone-ravaged citizens, the question needs to be asked: just why would New Zealand's Government leadership and media go out of their way to honour the wishes of such a regime by referring to the country as Myanmar, when both the political leadership and media of the UK, Europe and Australia do precisely the opposite?”
Union director Naing Ko Ko said he was hopeful Mr McCully would take that “symbolic action” now that he was Foreign Minister, and that the National-led Government would press the military rulers to end their gross human rights abuses.
Mr Naing said the campaign followed fresh reports on Myanmar's rights record released last week by the United States and international human rights groups such as the Centre for Public Health and Human Rights, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
According to Immigration New Zealand figures, New Zealand received 397 refugees from there in 2007 – up from 174 the previous year, and two in 2005.
The United States lashed out at the Myanmar regime's human rights record, accusing the military of “brutally” suppressing its citizens and razing entire villages.
In its annual global report released on February 26, signed by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the State Department said Myanmar's ruling junta carried out extrajudicial killings along with rape and torture without punishing anyone responsible.
“The regime brutally suppressed dissent … denying citizens the right to change their government and committing other severe … abuses,” it said.
In 2007 the military crushed an uprising led by Buddhist monks, killing at least 31 people, according to the UN. In May last year, a cyclone left 138,000 people dead or missing.
Pro- democracy advocate and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has been under house arrest for most of the past 19 years.