Pope Francis sidesteps Rohingya crisis in Myanmar speech


Cii Radio| Ayesha Ismail| 29 November 2017| 10 Rabi ul Awal 1439

Pope Francis was expected to address the Rohingya crisis head-on in a speech in the country’s capital on Tuesday.

But that didn’t happen.

Instead, speaking after Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the Pope said that Myanmar is suffering from civil conflict and hostilities “that have lasted all too long and created deep divisions.”

The word ‘Rohingya’ didn’t feature in his speech. His trip is so sensitive that some papal advisers warned Francis against even saying the word ‘Rohingya’, lest he set off a diplomatic incident that would turn the country’s military and government against minority Christians.

“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,” the Pope added, according to Vatican officials who gave a briefing on the 40-minute meeting.

The Pope met Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi on the second day of a visit fraught with tension after the United States accused the Southeast Asian nation of “ethnic cleansing” against its Muslim Rohingya people.

The Pope earlier met leaders of several faiths in the majority-Buddhist country, calling for “unity in diversity” but making no mention of the Rohingya who have fled en masse to Bangladesh since a military crackdown began three months ago.

Tension over the word ‘Rohingya’
Vatican sources say some in the Holy See believe the trip was decided hastily after full diplomatic ties were established in May during a visit by Suu Kyi.

The pope has already used the word ‘Rohingya’ in two appeals from the Vatican this year.

A hard line group of Buddhist monks, previously known as Ma Ba Tha, said on Monday it welcomed the pope’s visit but warned, without elaborating, of “a response” if he spoke openly about the Rohingya.

The pope later flew to the capital, Naypyidaw, where he met President Htin Kyaw, writing in the guest book at the presidential palace: “On all the beloved people in Myanmar, I invoke the divine blessings of justice, peace and unity.”

The Roman Catholic Church leader will also travel to Bangladesh, where more than 620,000 Rohingya have fled to escape what Amnesty International has dubbed “crimes against humanity.”

Myanmar’s army has denied accusations of murder, rape, torture and forced displacement that have been made against it.

“Unity is always a product of diversity,” Francis told leaders of the Buddhist, Islamic, Hindu, Jewish and Christian faiths in the city of Yangon, according to Vatican officials who gave a briefing on the 40-minute meeting.

“Everyone has their values, their riches as well as their differences, as each religion has its riches, its traditions, its riches to share. And this can only happen if we live in peace, and peace is constructed in a chorus of differences.”

Only about 700,000 of Myanmar’s 51 million people are Roman Catholic. Thousands of them have travelled from far and wide to see him and more than 150,000 people have registered for a mass that Francis will say in Yangon on Wednesday.

Rohingya plight
The Rohingya exodus from Rakhine state to Bangladesh began after August 25, when Rohingya militants attacked security posts and the Myanmar army launched a counter-offensive.

Myanmar does not recognise the Rohingya as citizens nor as members of a distinct ethnic group with their own identity, and it even rejects the term Rohingya and its use.

Many people in Myanmar instead refer to members of the Muslim minority in Rakhine state as illegal migrants from Bangladesh.

Pope Francis is expected to meet a group of Rohingya refugees in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, on the second leg of his trip.

Source – TRT World