Pope Francis at the canonization of Saint John XXIII and Saint John Paul II

Pope Meets Myanmar Military Commander During Visit to Yangon

Pope Francis met with Myanmar’s military commander on Monday during the first-ever papal visit to the Southeast Asian country amid scathing criticism by the international community over the government’s handling of the Rohingya Muslim crisis in Rakhine state.

At a brief meeting in the commercial capital Yangon, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing told the pontiff that “no religious discrimination” existed in Myanmar despite evidence and allegations of ethnic cleansing in northern Rakhine where a military crackdown has driven out more than 620,000 Rohingya.

Rights groups and some of the refugees who fled to neighboring Bangladesh have accused soldiers of indiscriminate killings, torture, rape and arson, though both the army and the Myanmar government have denied the allegations.

Min Aung Hlaing told the pope that people in Myanmar are given the right to worship freely, that there is no inter-ethnic discrimination in the country, and that the military works for peace and stability in Myanmar, according to a post on his official Facebook page.

Pope Francis has spoken out on Myanmar’s treatment of the Rohingya, who are disparagingly referred to as “Bengalis” because they are considered illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

For decades, Myanmar has subjected the Rohingya to systematic discrimination by depriving them of citizenship and access to basic services, though many have lived in the country for generations.

After initial reports surfaced in late August of Rohingya fleeing the army crackdown in northern Rakhine following a deadly attack blamed on Muslim militants, Pope Francis publicly called for prayers for the Muslim minority group.

He told a group of pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square, The Vatican, that he was saddened by the news “of the persecution of a religious minority, our Rohingya brothers and sisters,” Catholic News Service reported at the time.

“Let us ask the Lord to save them, and to raise up men and women of goodwill to help them, that they may be given full rights,” the pope said.

Before the pontiff’s visit to Myanmar, Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, the archbishop of Yangon, cautioned Pope Francis to refrain from using the word “Rohingya,” which government and military leaders do not recognize.

Earlier this month, the cardinal spoke out against what he called “very unfair” criticism by the international community of Nobel Peace laureate and de facto national leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s perceived indifference to the plight of the Rohingya.

Full story: rfa.org

Reported by Thant Zin Oo for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

Copyright © 1998-2017, RFA. Used with the permission of Radio Free Asia, 2025 M St. NW, Suite 300, Washington DC 20036. http://www.rfa.org.

TN

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