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The Pope meets with the head of the army on his first day of visit to Myanmar

Francis reminds Min Aung Hlaing his "relevant" role in the democratic transition and denies that there is religious discrimination

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The Pope meets with the head of the army on his first day of visit to Myanmar

Pope Francis landed on Monday in Yangon, former capital of Myanmar, where he will hold a complicated diplomatic and pastoral mission until Thursday. The country is plunged into a humanitarian crisis that has caused expulsion of 620,000 members of ethnic minority Rohingya to Bangladesh and threatens to destabilize a fragile democracy that began to Asomar in 2010. Changing agenda last minute, Francisco has met with Army chief Min Aung Hlaing — responsible for brutal military campaign — to remind him of his "relevant" role in this transition period.

This time re were no spectacular receptions. Nor did usual masses of worshippers bet on one side and or of road hoping to see pope as Suedió in Colombia. Under about 35 degrees and a sticky 79% moisture, just several dozens of children sang along small airport track, where minister delegated President of Republic and 20 local bishops waited for pope's Landing. The Catholic population of Myanmar represents only 1% of total of a country of 52 million of inhabitants and of Buddhist majority.

It was clear that this was anor kind of trip to usual ones. But when pope received an invitation to visit Myanmar from current state councilor, Aung Sang Suu Kyi, no one could have imagined upcoming diplomatic scene. The country was n in a clear advance in consolidation of its young democracy and figure of Nobel Peace Prize, highly maligned today because of its passivity in face of humanitarian crisis, it represented an upward value in stability of region.

Francisco, first pope to visit ancient Burma, landed on Monday in a Buddhist-majority country that has had to flee more than 620,000 Rohingya to Bangladesh — 160 million inhabitants in a much smaller territory. Not even agreement signed last Thursday between two countries so that rohinhgya can gradually return to ir homes — it does not satisfy those involved or humanitarian organizations — has calmed spirits.

The convoluted diplomatic scene has forced various unforeseen balances. One of m was to include this Monday, at last minute, a meeting with head of military campaign that began at end of August and that, according to UN, is a "manual ethnic cleansing": Army chief Min Aung Hlaing. The meeting lasted only 15 minutes and occurred at Archbishop's headquarters in former capital. A somewhat more comfortable place for pope, who at first had not planned to see himself in private with general. Journalists were not allowed to enter eir before or after meeting, and Vatican summarized its content with a brief phrase: "There has been talk of great responsibility of authority of country at this moment of transition."

But head of army, annoyed by international pressure he is receiving, wanted also to set position at exit of meeting. Ming Aung Hlaing's office hung a Facebook post in which he summarized, also in his own way, what head of army had told pope. "In Myanmar re is no religious discrimination at all, in fact re is freedom of religion." And goal of each soldier is to build peace in a stable country, he said in social network.

The feeling is that in delicate Burmese democracy — 135 ethnic groups among whom re are no Rohingya — it is military power who still commands politics. And Vatican, urged by his trusted man in country, Cardinal Bo, has not wanted to create any awkward situation for minorities, especially for Christians. It was Bo who suggested that he include in his agenda this meeting and who also asked him not to refer Rohingya by name — as he did on August 27th during Sunday Angelus in St. Peter's Square — not to hurt any sensibility. In fact, many or small religious groups remember se days that y have also suffered persecution of army and ir case has not been treated with same media intensity. The pope, apparently, will respect that willingness not to create any added conflicts.

The same protocol will be repeated this Tuesday surely when it is seen in Naypyitaw, capital of country since 1989, with Nobel peace laureate Aung Sang Suu Kyi. This time meeting will be public and pontiff will give a long-awaited speech in which influence of lady will be tested in a region where multiple interests of neighbouring countries converge. Indeed, trip to Myanmar and humanitarian crisis itself in Rakhine region, a state located in precious Gulf of Bengal and a commercially strategic place for China — wood, water, electricity, oil, gas, and uranium — can also be interpreted in a Context of opening Vatican's relations with Asian giant, broken from 1951. The Holy See has been trying to reopen those relations with various gestures for years and in China it will take good note se days of everything that is done and say in Myanmar.


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