June 29, 2012 / 11:58 AM / 6 years ago

Myanmar govt chides Suu Kyi for calling country Burma

YANGON (Reuters) - Myanmar’s government berated Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi on Friday for disrespecting the constitution by calling the country Burma, the latest sign of a straining of her ties with the reformist civilian rulers.

In an article carried in official newspapers, which serve as mouthpieces for the still reclusive government, the Union Election Commission ordered Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) party to call the country Myanmar, saying parliamentarians were required to do.

Suu Kyi, who led Myanmar’s fight against dictatorship until the military ceded power 15 months ago and has just finished a high-profile tour of Europe, has always called the country by its former official name, Burma, as have several Western nations that back her, including the United States and Britain.

“It is announced that the commission ... has again informed the NLD to write/address the name of the state as prescribed in the constitution ... and respect the constitution,” the commission said.

“Again, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi called Myanmar ‘Burma’ in her speeches during her Europe tour,” it added, referring to her by the honorific, “daw”.

The name of the country 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, in a move it said was to appease minority non-Burman ethnic groups.

Opponents of the military, including Suu Kyi, ignored the change and continued to refer to the country as Burma.

Suu Kyi’s frank comments while overseas have tested the patience of the retired junta generals still in power with whom she says she is willing to work with, in particular, President Thein Sein, a man she described as “honest and sincere”.

There has been widespread speculation that a warning she issued to investors while in Thailand against “reckless optimism” over the country’s unprecedented reforms had irked Thein Sein.

State media responded four days later with an opinion piece saying Myanmar’s future depended on cooperation of the two leaders, otherwise a “golden opportunity” could be lost.

Legal expert Aung Thein said there was little the authorities could do to make Suu Kyi change her stance.

“All the commission can do is to tell her to call the country ‘Myanmar’,” he said.

Reporting by Aung Hla Tun; Editing by Martin Petty and Robert Birsel

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