Pope vis­its Myan­mar for peace talks

Daily Dispatch - - World News -

POPE Fran­cis will push for peace dur­ing his visit to Myan­mar, a church of­fi­cial said yes­ter­day, a trip that plunges the pon­tiff into the cen­tre of a sim­mer­ing re­li­gious con­flict which has sparked an ex­o­dus of Mus­lim Ro­hingya.

Myan­mar’s western Rakhine state has been torn apart by com­mu­nal vi­o­lence, send­ing more than 520 000 Ro­hingya over to neigh­bour­ing Bangladesh since late Au­gust.

The leader of the world’s Catholics will visit both na­tions on a highly-charged trip in late Novem­ber – al­though there are cur­rently no plans to visit strife­torn Rakhine or the refugee camps in Bangladesh.

“We don’t know yet what will be in his speech . . . but he is com­ing for the sake of the coun­try and he will be talk­ing about peace,” a spokesman for the Catholic Bishop’s Con­fer­ence of Myan­mar, Fr Mar­i­ano Soe Naing said.

He will talk with de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi, a No­bel peace prize lau­re­ate who has sparked in­ter­na­tional dis­may with her per­ceived lack of sym­pa­thy to­wards the Ro­hingya.

Myan­mar’s army is ac­cused of us­ing a crack­down on mil­i­tants to vi­o­lently ex­pel its pop­u­la­tion of the Mus­lim mi­nor­ity – a per­se­cuted group the Pope has pre­vi­ously called “broth­ers and sis­ters”.

But any sym­pa­thy for the Ro­hingya could pro­voke a back­lash from Myan­mar’s Bud­dhist-ma­jor­ity public, who loathe the mi­nor­ity and have railed against global sup­port for the group.

Some 200 000 peo­ple are ex­pected to at­tend a Mass led by Fran­cis in Kyaikkasan Grounds, a sta­dium in Yan­gon, Fr Mar­i­ano added. After Myan­mar the Pope will head to Bangladesh, which has had to ab­sorb more than half-a-mil­lion Ro­hingya refugees, putting a sig­nif­i­cant strain on the two coun­tries’ ties.

Myan­mar and the Vat­i­can only es­tab­lished full diplo­matic re­la­tions in May, shortly after Suu Kyi met Pope Fran­cis dur­ing a Euro­pean tour.

That visit was over­shad­owed by her coun­try’s treat­ment of the Ro­hingya, who are de­nied cit­i­zen­ship and have pre­vi­ously been dis­placed in huge num­bers by com­mu­nal vi­o­lence and army cam­paigns.

Only weeks be­fore the meet­ing, Fran­cis said the Ro­hingya were “good and peace­ful peo­ple who have suf­fered for years”.

That puts Fran­cis at odds with many in­side Myan­mar, where au­thor­i­ties have de­nied com­mit­ting atroc­i­ties and refuse to use the term Ro­hingya, in­stead la­belling them “Ben­galis”.

Bud­dhist na­tion­al­ist hard­lin­ers have pre­vi­ously vowed to protest any pa­pal visit be­cause of his sup­port for the Mus­lim group.

Suu Kyi is des­per­ate to stop re­li­gious blood­shed from erupt­ing in other parts of the di­verse coun­try. Ear­lier this week her party held an in­ter­faith rally.

But her calls for unity have been met with out­rage and charges of hypocrisy from de­trac­tors who ac­cuse her of gloss­ing over the Ro­hingya’s suf­fer­ing. — AFP

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