Sunday 25 August 2019

Pope meets with military chief on visit to Myanmar

A young girl embraces Pope Francis as he arrives at Yangon International Airport in Myanmar yesterday. Photo: Reuters/Max Rossi
A young girl embraces Pope Francis as he arrives at Yangon International Airport in Myanmar yesterday. Photo: Reuters/Max Rossi

Roland Oliphant

Pope Francis met the chief of Myanmar's military as he began a week-long trip to Myanmar and Bangladesh in which he is expected to speak out over the Rohingya refugee crisis.

The Pope landed in Yangon yesterday on a visit originally planned to bolster the country's tiny Catholic minority but which human rights activists hope he will use to put diplomatic pressure on Aung San Suu Kyi's government over a violent crackdown against a minority Muslim group.

He met Gen Min Aung Hliang, the powerful head of the Tatmadaw, the Myanmar military, for 15 minutes.

He will meet political and diplomatic leaders, including Ms Suu Kyi today.

Greg Burke, a Vatican spokesman, said: "They spoke of the great responsibility of the authorities of the country in this moment of transition."

Francis presented the general with a commemorative medal of his visit, and the army chief gave the Pope a harp in the shape of a boat and an ornate rice bowl, Mr Burke said.

The general said in a statement on his Facebook page that he told the Pope there was "no religious discrimination" in the Buddhist majority country.

"Myanmar has no religious discrimination at all," he said. "Likewise our military too... performs for the peace and stability of the country."

A military crackdown against the Muslim minority in Myanmar's north-western Rakhine state has sent more than 620,000 people fleeing into neighbouring Bangladesh since August.

Francis, who has previously called the Rohingya "our brothers and sisters", is expected to meet a delegation of Rohingya Muslims in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, later in the week.

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

Members of ethnic minority groups in traditional dress welcomed Francis at Yangon airport, and children presented him with flowers as he stepped off his plane. He waved through an open window at children waving Vatican and Myanmar flags and wearing T-shirts with the motto of the trip - "love and peace" - as he set off in a car.

Only about 700,000 of Myanmar's 51 million people are Catholic. Thousands of them travelled to Yangon and joined crowds at roadside points along the way from the airport to catch a glimpse of the Pope. (© Daily Telegraph London)

Irish Independent

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