POPE Francis failed to use the word ‘Rohingya’ or mention the military crackdown on the Muslim minority during a speech in Myanmar.
But Francis spoke of how the country’s people ‘continue to suffer from civil conflict and hostilities’, and insisted all should have their basic human rights and dignity guaranteed.
The pope, in a speech to Myanmar’s civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi in the capital Naypyidaw, expressed support for Ms Suu Kyi’s efforts to bring about reconciliation after decades of military dictatorship, and insisted religion must never be a cause for division or distrust.
‘The future of Myanmar must be peace, a peace based on respect for the dignity and rights of each member of society, respect for each ethnic group and its identity, respect for the rule of law, and respect for a democratic order that enables each individual and every group… to offer its legitimate contribution to the common good,’ he said.
His avoidance of the word ‘Rohingya’ and his encouragement for the government disappointed activists after the crackdown and alleged ethnic cleansing.
Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch said: ‘The Rohingya have been stripped of so many things but their name should never be one of them.’
The term ‘Rohingya’ is shunned by many in Myanmar because the ethnic group is not a recognised minority.
Ms Suu Kyi referred to the ‘situation in the Rakhine’ in her speech to Francis and said the government’s aim is to carry forward the peace process and strengthen Myanmar’s diversity ‘by protecting rights, fostering tolerance’.
The pope also met leaders of Myanmar’s different religious groups, including controversial Buddhist Sitagu Sayadaw, who has criticised the Rohingya.