Pope Starts Myanmar Trip amid Crackdown on Rohingya Muslims
TEHRAN (Tasnim) – Pope Francis landed in Yangon on Monday, the start of a visit for the leader of the Roman Catholic church to majority-Buddhist Myanmar, which has started a heavy crackdown on Muslim Rohingya people.
The pope will also visit Bangladesh, where more than 620,000 Rohingya have fled to escape what Amnesty International has dubbed “crimes against humanity”.
The Myanmar army has denied the accusations of murder, rape, torture and forcible displacement.
After leaving Rome, the pope told reporters on his plane, “They say it’s too hot (in Myanmar). I‘m sorry, but let’s hope it will at least be fruitful.”
Ethnic minorities in traditional dress welcomed Francis at Yangon airport, and children presented him with flowers as he stepped off his plane, Reuters reported.
He waved through an open window at dozens of children waving Vatican and Myanmar flags and T-shirts with the motto of the trip - “love and peace” - as he set off in a light blue Toyota car for St. Mary’s Cathedral in the heart of the city.
Large numbers of riot police were mobilized in the country’s main city but there were no signs of any protests.
Francis is expected to meet a group of Rohingya refugees in Dhaka, capital of Bangladesh, on the second leg of his trip.
The most tense moments of his Myanmar visit are likely to be private meetings with the army chief, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing and, separately, civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
Rohingya Muslims fleeing violence and persecution in their home country of Myanmar continue to arrive in Bangladesh. Refugees are waiting for handout from aid agencies since they lack food, clean water and shelter. Locals say many of the Rohingya refugees are also sick and wounded. Thousands of the displaced people have been stranded or left without enough food for weeks.