The Latest: Pope meets with powerful Myanmar military chief
YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — The Latest on Pope Francis’s trip to Myanmar and Bangladesh (all times local):
Pope Francis has met with Myanmar’s powerful military chief and spoken about the “great responsibility” that authorities have in Myanmar’s transition.
The Vatican said the meeting with Gen. Min Aung Hlaing and three officials from Myanmar’s bureau of special operations took place Monday evening at the residence of the Myanmar archbishop and lasted about 15 minutes.
Vatican spokesman Greg Burke didn’t provide details of the private meeting other than to say that “they spoke of the great responsibility of the authorities of the country in this moment of transition.”
Min Aung Hlaing is in charge of military operations in Rakhine state, where security forces have launched a scorched earth campaign against Rohingya Muslims that has forced more than 620,000 to flee to neighboring Bangladesh in what the U.N. says is a campaign of “ethnic cleansing.”
Francis’ meeting with the commander had been scheduled for Wednesday morning, but was moved up to just a few hours after he landed in Yangon on a trip to Myanmar and Bangladesh.
Rohingya Muslims confined to a camp in a troubled Myanmar state say they hope Pope Francis will call them the same as he did when he prayed for the Rohingya as brothers and sisters.
Myanmar’s local Catholic Church has publicly urged Francis to avoid using the term, which is shunned by many locally because Rohingya are not a recognized ethnic minority in the country.
More than 620,000 Rohingya have fled recent violence for Bangladesh, but more than 100,000 have been confined to a concentration camp-like enclave in the Rakhine state capital of Sittwe since 2012.
Faizel, a 27-year-old Rohingya in the Sittwe camp, said the residents were hopeful the pope’s trip would bring positive outcomes. But he feared the pope might not use the word in the face of the pressure.
Faizel said “All Rohingya simply want to be treated the same as other human beings.”
Pope Francis has arrived in Yangon for a visit to encourage tiny Catholic communities in Myanmar and Bangladesh.
He was greeted by local Catholic officials at the airport Monday afternoon. Thousands of Catholics came from across the country to Yangon, many waving to his car along the road, playing traditional music and wearing attire of their various ethnic groups.
Francis will meet separately with Myanmar’s civilian leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, its powerful military chief and Buddhist monks during his stay in Myanmar.
He goes later in the week to Bangladesh where he will greet a delegation of Rohingya Muslims and meet with Bangladesh’s political and religious leadership in Dhaka.
Masses for the Catholic faithful and meetings with the local church hierarchy round out the itinerary in each country.
Thousands of Catholics from across Myanmar have come to the nation’s biggest city of Yangon to welcome Pope Francis to the country.
The pope is due to arrive Monday afternoon. His visit will include meetings with Myanmar leaders before heading to Bangladesh.
Father Brang Htoi came with 1,600 Catholics from Kachin state to welcome the pope at the airport. He says, “We are very excited to welcome him.”
Catholics are one of the smallest religious minority groups in Myanmar with over 660,000 people, just over 1 percent of the population of 52 million.