Myanmar took a swipe at the US on Saturday for calling the country Burma, urging it to use its official title and avoid harming improving ties between the two former foes.
In a response to a press statement issued by the US embassy in Yangon on the conflict in northern Kachin state, Myanmar’s Foreign Ministry said Washington should be following most countries and the UN and call it Myanmar.
The issue has struck a chord with the civilian-led government, which has won the recognition of the international community following political, social and economic reforms introduced after it replaced an oppressive military junta in March 2011.
“Myanmar strongly objects to the usage of the words ‘Burma,’ ‘Burmese government’ and ‘Burmese military’ in the US embassy’s press release and not using the name recognized by the UN and the whole international community,” the ministry said in a statement carried in state-controlled newspapers.
It said US President Barack Obama had called the country Myanmar during his landmark visit late last year, so the embassy should follow his example.
After decades of bitterness, ties between Myanmar and the US have started to thaw since the new government embarked on reforms and freed hundreds of political prisoners.
The US has suspended most sanctions and even engaged with Myanmar’s military, which has been accused of corruption and human rights abuses that include rape, torture, forced labor and recruitment of child soldiers.
The country’s name has long had two forms in the Burmese language: Myanmar is the formal name, while Burma has traditionally been used in informal conversation.
In 1989, the then-ruling junta deemed that the country should be officially known in English as Myanmar, a move it said was to appease minority non-Burman ethnic groups.
Opponents of the military, including Nobel laureate and lawmaker Aung San Suu Kyi, ignored the change and continued to refer to the country as Burma.
She still calls it Burma today, an issue that has riled the government.
The US embassy issued a statement on Thursday objecting to the fierce fighting between the Myanmar military and Kachin Independence Army and urged the government to protect civilians and allow humanitarian access to the area.
The Foreign Ministry criticized the embassy for not mentioning “terrorist” acts by the Kachin Independence Army.
It said it hoped the embassy would “avoid in future actions that may affect mutual respect, mutual understanding and cooperation.”