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Myanmar envoy brands boat people 'ugly as ogres'

A Rohingya refugee camp. Photo courtesy UNHCR/J.Pagonis.
by Staff Writers
Hong Kong (AFP) Feb 11, 2009
Myanmar's senior official in Hong Kong has described the Rohingya people as "ugly as ogres" in a letter sent to media and foreign officials after a high-profile refugee case highlighted their plight.

The country's Consul General Ye Myint Aung told heads of foreign missions in Hong Kong and local newspapers members of the Muslim ethnic group should not be described as being from Myanmar.

"In reality, Rohingya are neither Myanmar people nor Myanmar's ethnic group," he wrote, in a letter seen by AFP on Wednesday.

The envoy contrasted the "dark brown" Rohingya complexion with the "fair and soft" skin of people from Myanmar, which he said was "good looking as well".

In a letter liberally punctuated with brackets, Ye Myint Aung continued: "(My complexion is a typical genuine one of a Myanmar gentleman and you will accept that how handsome your colleague Mr Ye is.) It is quite different from what you have seen and read in the papers. (They are as ugly as ogres)."

Rights groups say the Rohingya are stateless and face religious and ethnic persecution from Myanmar's military regime, forcing thousands to take to rickety boats each year in a bid to escape poverty and oppression.

But Myanmar's junta denies the existence of the Rohingya as an ethnic group in the mainly Buddhist country and says the migrants are Bangladeshis.

Ye Myint Aung included recent clippings from the New Light of Myanmar newspaper, a mouthpiece for the junta, stating that the Rohingya are not among Myanmar's ethnic groups and detailing 60 years of action against Rohingya "illegal immigrants".

Thailand's military was accused in January of towing hundreds of Rohingya out to sea in poorly equipped boats with scant food and water after they tried to flee Myanmar, a charge Thailand has "categorically denied".

The accusations surfaced after nearly 650 Rohingya were rescued off India and Indonesia, some saying they had been beaten by Thai soldiers. Hundreds of the boat people are still believed to be missing at sea.

Ye Myint Aung said his letter was prompted by the attention the case has attracted.

Myanmar's Hong Kong consulate refused to comment despite repeated telephone calls from AFP.

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