Pope meets Suu Kyi, fails to mention Rohingya in speech

Pope Francis has met Myanmar’s State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi but avoided directly addressing the ongoing Rohingya crisis.

At the meeting in Yangon on Tuesday, the pontiff stressed the importance of Myanmar respecting the “identity” of all of its ethnic groups, without using the term “Rohingya”.

More than 600,000 Rohingya have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh in fear of abuses by Myanmarese soldiers.

The ethnic group is subject to a raft of discriminatory measures by Myanmar’s government, such as being deprived of citizenship.

Having previously spoken against the “persecution of our Rohingya brothers and sisters,” the leader of the Roman Catholic Church had been advised by Myanmar’s archbishop not to use the word Rohingya.

Nevertheless, Al Jazeera’s Scott Heidler, reporting from Yangon, said the pontiff did allude to the persecuted minority.

“Rohingya is a very sensitive topic, it is a very sensitive word here in Myanmar, particularly when it comes to dealing with the government,” Heidler explained.

“He didn’t say Rohingya but he alluded to the Rohingya and their plight, and he said that for the future of this country there needs to be acceptance and respect for the identity of all ethnic groups and who they are.”

Myanmar’s ruling party has objected to the use of the term Rohingya to identify the mostly Muslim minority, demanding that they are called “Bengalis” despite the persecuted group living there for generations.

The UN, as well as the US, have said the violent actions taken by Myanmar’s armed forces and “local vigilantes” amount to “ethnic cleansing” against its Rohingya minority.

In 2012, Myanmar’s armed forces began to force Rohingya into refugee camps, both in Rakhine state and across the border into Bangladesh.

The ongoing crisis is being described as the world’s biggest forced exodus this year.

Last week the government of Bangladesh signed a deal with Myanmar on the repatriation of Rohingya, but details of the deal have still not been made public.