YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Several hundred protesters in Myanmar's main city denied Wednesday that boat people arriving on Southeast Asian shores are Rohingya Muslims, a religious minority the government and many others in the predominantly Buddhist nation say does not exist.
About 30 radical Buddhist monks led the rally in Yangon.
"The boat people are not from Myanmar" one banner carried by the demonstrators said. Another read, "The United Nations and the international media are making up stories!"
Myanmar has experienced a surge in Buddhist nationalism since it began moving from dictatorship toward democracy four years ago.
Up to 280 Rohingya have been killed by machete-wielding mobs and tens of thousands have taken to the seas in wooden trawlers, hoping to find better lives elsewhere.
In recent weeks, more than 3,000 Rohingya and Bangladeshis fleeing persecution and poverty have landed in Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia.
"This is not Myanmar's problem, this is a global issue now," said Thuda Nanda, a Buddhist monk. "These boat people have made up the name 'Rohingya.' They are pretending to be refugees so they can find a way to come to Myanmar. We cannot accept them."
Myanmar's 1.3 million Rohingya are denied citizenship by national law, rendering them stateless. The government calls them "Bengalis," implying all are illegal migrants from neighboring Bangladesh, though many of their families arrived generations ago.