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Pope Francis arrives in Myanmar amid Rohingya crisis

The pontiff who has earlier spoken against military atrocities is under pressure not to use the word Rohingya.

Pope Francis

Pope Francis has arrived in Myanmar on his first trip to the Southeast Asian nation, where tens of thousands of Rohingya refugees have faced brutal military crackdown in the past three months.

His trip comes as the Myanmar government is accused of "ethnically cleansing" its Rohingya Muslim minority, more than 600,000 of whom have taken shelter in neighbouring Bangladesh.

The 80-year-old leader of Roman Catholic Church who has spoken against "persecution of our Rohingya brothers and sisters" in the past has been advised not use the word Rohingya.

Ro Mayyu Ali, a Rohingya Muslim who fled to neighbouring Bangladesh in September, said he hoped the pope would use his visit to speak up for the persecuted minority.

"I will never forget the moment you stopped your white popemobile and kissed the separation wall, a barrier between Palestine and Israel, during your visit to Bethlehem in 2014. It was a massive political statement," Ali said.

"I hope you use this opportunity to use speak up for some of the 620,000 Rohingya who have fled to Bangladesh and witnessed gang rape, mass killing, and seen their children burned alive."

Francis has previously condemned the atrocities, including mass killings and gang rapes, committed against the Muslim minority. He is also expected to meet with refugees in the coming days.

Ethnic cleansing

According to the United Nations, security forces in Myanmar reportedly burned down entire villages and opened fire at people fleeing burning homes.

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

The pontiff is expected to meet Myanmar's de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi and the head of the military, who have instead blamed the Rohingya for the crisis.

The UN, as well as the United States, has 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 Bangladesh government signed a deal with Myanmar on the repatriation of Rohingya but details of the deal have still not been made public.


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