Pope Francis fails to mention Rohingya crisis in key Burma address

'Religious differences need not be a source of division and distrust, but rather a force for unity, forgiveness, tolerance and wise nation-building'

Tuesday 28 November 2017 12:08 GMT
Pope Francis avoids mentioning Rohingya in speech

Pope Francis has called for Burma to "respect each group and its identity" on a visit to the country, but failed specifically to raise the persecution of Rohingya Muslims as some activists had hoped he would.

The Pope ended his key address in the Burmese capital of Naypyidaw, during a meeting with the country's de facto leader Aang San Suu Kyi, without using the word "Rohingya", which would have itself been controversial.

Speaking after Ms Suu Kyi's address, the pontiff lamented in his speech how Burma's people have suffered "and continue to suffer from civil conflict and hostilities" which have "lasted too long and created deep divisions," insisting that all people who call the country their home deserves to have their basic rights guaranteed.

He said Burma's future must be based on "respect for the dignity and rights of each member of society, respect for each ethnic group and its identity".

"The arduous process of peace-building and national reconciliation can only advance through a commitment to justice and respect for human rights," he said.

"Religious differences need not be a source of division and distrust, but rather a force for unity, forgiveness, tolerance and wise nation-building," he added.

It has been reported that the extreme delicacy around the Pope's trip to the country caused some of his advisors to warn him against mentioning the word "Rohingya" over fears it could cause a diplomatic incident that could affect the minority Christians in Burma.

Drone footage shows thousands of Rohingya Muslims fleeing Myanmar

More than 620,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled from Burma's Rakhine state into Bangladesh following a military crackdown in the area. The action has caused the United States to accuse the country of "ethnic cleansing".

The Pope was thanked by Ms Suu Kyi for his support for what she called the many "challenges" Burma is facing, ahead of his address. Her international image has been damaged by her government's actions over the Rohingya crisis, which has marked Asia's worst refugee situation in decades.

The civilian leader said she appreciates those who are supporting the government as it addresses long-standing social, economic and political issues "that have eroded trust and understanding, harmony and co-operation".

The Pope's visit to the majority-Buddhist country saw pontiff meet with Burma's military chief ahead of his speech, who claimed there is "no religious discrimination in the country".

Thousands of Burma's Christian population travelled to Yangon to see the Pope when he arrived on Monday. Only about 700,000 of the country's 51 million population are Roman Catholic. The Pope will also visit Bangladesh on his tour.

Additional reporting by agencies

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