YANGON (Reuters) - Myanmar took a swipe at the United States 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 U.S. embassy in Yangon on the conflict in northern Kachin state, the Foreign Ministry said Washington should be following most countries and the United Nations 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 U.S. embassy’s press release and not using the name recognized by the United Nations and the whole international community,” the ministry said in a statement carried in state-controlled newspapers.
It said U.S. 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 United States have started to thaw since the new government embarked on reforms and freed hundreds of political prisoners.
The United States 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 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”.
Reporting by Aung Hla Tun; Editing by Martin Petty and Ron Popeski