Myanmar’s powerful army chief has told Pope Francis there is “no religious discrimination” in the country during talks at the start of the pontiff’s delicate visit to the majority-Buddhist nation that has been accused of “ethnic cleansing” against its Muslim Rohingya people.
Thousands of Catholics welcomed Pope Francis to the country’s capital, Naypyidaw, where he arrived for a three-day visit to Myanmar on Monday. The trip – fraught with sensitivity and trepidation over how he will deal with the plight of the Muslim Rohingya – could be the trickiest yet of his papacy.
The army chief told the pope that “Myanmar has no religious discrimination at all. Likewise our military too … performs for the peace and stability of the country”, according to a Facebook post published by the general’s office a few hours after the meeting. There is also “no discrimination between ethnic groups in Myanmar”, he added.
The Vatican said the meeting with General Min Aung Hlaing and three officials from Myanmar’s bureau of special operations took place on Monday evening at the residence of the Myanmar archbishop and lasted about 15 minutes.
Vatican spokesman Greg Burke didn’t provide details of the private meeting other than to say that “they spoke of the great responsibility of the authorities of the country in this moment of transition”.
Min Aung Hlaing is in charge of military operations in Rakhine state, where security forces have launched a scorched earth campaign against Rohingya Muslims that has forced more than 620,000 to flee to neighbouring Bangladesh in what the UN said is a campaign of “ethnic cleansing”.
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