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In Myanmar, Pope Francis Didn't Mention The Rohingya Minority By Name

Nov 28, 2017
Originally published on November 29, 2017 6:55 am
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Pope Francis followed the advice of Catholic leaders in Myanmar and did not name the Rohingya, the Muslim minority who are being persecuted and driven from the country by military leaders. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports the church was afraid of reprisals by the military. The military still holds a lot of power as Myanmar tries to transition to democracy.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: The pope traveled today to Myanmar's official capital, Naypyitaw, a fortress built a decade ago that reflects the mindset of dictatorships. The huge airport was empty, and there were hardly any cars on the eight-lane highways. The city has no urban center. In fact, it was specially designed to prevent protests and rebellions. It is there that the pope went to meet de facto Prime Minister Aung San Suu Kyi.

The former dissident and Nobel Peace Prize winner has come under intense criticism for not denouncing the murder, rape, torture and forcible displacement of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims into neighboring Bangladesh, a campaign the U.N. brands as ethnic cleansing. The pope and Aung San Suu Kyi met privately for some 20 minutes. And then she spoke first in public, avoiding the name of the minority Muslims and mentioning only the region where they live.

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STATE COUNSELLOR AUNG SAN SUU KYI: Of the many challenges that our government has been facing, the situation in the Rakhine has most strongly captured the attention of the world.

POGGIOLI: Aung San Suu Kyi used the conflict as a chance to thank those who have supported the government as, she said, it seeks to address longstanding issues - social, economic and political - that have eroded trust and understanding, harmony and cooperation, in the northwestern state where many Rohingya live. Speaking in Italian, Francis said the future of Myanmar must be peace.

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POPE POPE FRANCIS: (Speaking Italian).

POGGIOLI: 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 rule of law and respect for a democratic order that enables each and every group, none excluded, to offer its legitimate contribution to the common good.

Tomorrow, the pope will meet with the top body of Buddhist monks in Myanmar. He will stress the important role inter-religious dialogue and cooperation can play in promoting reconciliation and peace in a country that has endured half a century of repression. Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Yangon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.