Pope Francis is walking a diplomatic tightrope as he embarks on a peace mission in Myanmar today amid claims the country is committing genocide.
An estimated 600,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled from Buddhist-majority Myanmar to neighboring Bangladesh since August following security operations by the Myanmar military. UN human rights official Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said in September that the exodus was a “textbook example” of ethnic cleansing.
The Pope was greeted by children at Yangon International Airport, in south Myanmar, ahead of his meetings with the nation’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi and the head of the military. He will also visit Bangladesh to meet a small group of Rohingya refugees there, in a symbolic gesture.
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The 80-year-old pontiff “has become known for his moderate views and willingness to denounce global injustice”, the BBC says.
But the situation is so delicate that some papal advisers have warned him not to use the word “Rohingya”, lest he “set off a diplomatic incident that could turn the country’s military and government against [its] minority Christians”, says Reuters.
Aaron Connelly, research fellow at Australia’s Lowy Institute, told CNN that the Pope’s desire to talk about the Rohingya was “clearly the thing that motivated this visit”.
According to Connelly: “The question is ... is he going to do that in a way which is less confrontational and engages? Or is he going to say, this is outrageous, these people have a right to be in Myanmar?”
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