NAYPYITAW (Reuters) - Pope Francis said on Tuesday that Myanmar is suffering from civil conflict and hostilities “that have lasted all too long and created deep divisions”, but in a speech in the country’s capital he did not refer to the minority Rohingya Muslims.
“The arduous process of peacebuilding and national reconciliation can only advance through a commitment to justice and respect for human rights,” he said, speaking after Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi had made an address.
“Religious differences need not be a source of division and distrust, but rather a force for unity, forgiveness, tolerance and wise nationbuilding,” the pope added.
The pope’s visit to Myanmar comes after an exodus of more than 620,000 Rohingya from Rakhine state to the southern tip of Bangladesh following a military crackdown that the United States last week branded “ethnic cleansing”.
His trip is so delicate that some papal advisers warned him against even saying the word “Rohingya”, lest he set off a diplomatic incident that could turn the country’s military and government against minority Christians.
Myanmar does not recognise the Rohingya as citizens nor as members of a distinct ethnic group with their own identity, and it rejects the term “Rohingya” and its use.
Pope Francis did not use the word in his speech.
Reporting by Phil Pullella; Editing by Robert Birsel