Pope Francis urges respect for human rights but avoids saying 'Rohingya' in Myanmar speech

(Reuters/Max Rossi)Pope Francis signs a guestbook during a meeting with Myanmar's President Htin Kyaw at the Presidential Palace in Naypyitaw, Myanmar November 28, 2017.

Pope Francis has urged Myanmar's leaders to respect the human rights of all ethnic groups in the country, but he avoided using the term "Rohingya" in his addresses to officials.

In his speech on Tuesday, the pontiff lamented how Myanmar's "people continue to suffer from civil conflict and hostilities," but he did not mention the government's crackdown on Rohingya Muslims, who have faced discrimination in the predominantly Buddhist country for decades.

More than 620,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh after the army began what it called "clearance operations" in Rakhine state in August following an attack on police posts by Rohingya insurgents.

Many of the refugees in Bangladesh are hopeful that Francis' visit will help bring peace to the region.

"If he wants, he can calm the Myanmar government down and bring peace by talking to us," said Mohammad Nadir Hossain. "We are suffering a lot right now. We are very worried. So, we are very grateful that he is coming," he added.

In his speech, the pope expressed support for civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi's efforts to bring about reconciliation among different groups after decades of military rule.

"The future of Myanmar must be peace, a peace based on respect for the dignity and rights of each member of society, respect for each ethnic group and its identity, respect for the rule of law, and respect for a democratic order that enables each individual and every group - none excluded - to offer its legitimate contribution to the common good," the pope said, according to The Associated Press.

Rohingya activists and human rights groups, however, have expressed disappointment for Francis' avoidance of the term "Rohingya," as well as his encouragement of Suu Kyi's government.

Suu Kyi has drawn international criticism for failing to condemn the military over reports of human rights abuses against members of the Rohingya community.

"We thought that the pope was going to mention the suffering of Rohingya people, but now he cannot even use the name Rohingya and it's totally unacceptable. We are very sad that our identity cannot even be revealed," said Kyaw Naing, a 53-year-old Rohingya man who resides in a camp outside of Sittwe, in Rakhina state.

While Francis has used the word Rohingya in two appeals from the Vatican this year, the pope's own advisers had recommended that he does not use the term in Myanmar to avoid setting off a diplomatic incident that could turn the country's military and government against minority Christians.

Myanmar rejects the use of the term as the Rohingya are not officially recognized as a minority in the country and are considered as illegal migrants from neighboring Bangladesh.

On Monday, a group of Buddhist monks has reportedly warned that there would be "a response" if the pontiff spoke openly about the Rohingya.

The pope will be meeting with a group of Rohingya refugees in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on the second leg of his trip.

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