Dhaka – The champion of humanity and a preacher of peace and harmony, Pope Francis could not utter the word ‘Rohingya’ in Myanmar during his first leg of visit to Asia.
The main focus of his visit in Myanmar was to see whether he use the term Rohingya, who are considered one of the most persecuted religious minority in the world. But during his meeting with the high officials, including Myanmar’s de facto civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, he could not mention the identity of the minority group to their recognition as Myanmar authorities stripped these group of their citizenship in the 1980s. They are being systematically being driven away from their homes in Rakhine state, which was previously known as Arakan, to neighbouring Bangladesh.
CNN put it as: One of the biggest challenges facing Pope Francis before he had even set foot in Myanmar was whether he would say the word “Rohingya” when referring to the ethnic minority that has fled southern western Rakhine State en masse to Bangladesh.
More than 620,000 Rohingya have become refugees since violence broke out in August this year. They allege that Myanmar’s military has murdered children, raped women and razed villages. Burmese authorities deny the accusations. They say they are targeting militants responsible for killing security personnel after coordinated attacks on police posts in August.
Myanmar’s de-facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi has only ever used the term “Rohingya” publicly when referring to the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army or ARSA, the militant group active in the region.
On Tuesday Suu Kyi and Pope Francis both spoke publicly and both avoided controversy.
“Of the many challenges that our government has been facing, the situation in the Rakhine has most strongly captured the attention of the world,” Suu Kyi said.
“It is the aim of our Government to bring out the beauty of our diversity and to make it our strength, by protecting rights, fostering tolerance, ensuring security for all.”
Pope Francis has disappointed human rights activists who, together with foreign diplomats, including US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, have condemned Myanmar and accused its military of ethnic cleansing.
On Tuesday, Francis didn’t specifically address allegations of ethnic cleansing, but said religion has an important role to play in solving the crisis.
“The arduous process of peace-building and national reconciliation can only advance through a commitment to justice and respect for human rights,” he said, according to a translation provided by the Vatican.