Pope Francis held talks with Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Tuesday, the second day of a visit to the country.
The Pope called for respect for rights and justice in a keenly-watched address in Myanmar , but refrained from any mention of the Rohingya, or allegations of ethnic cleansing that has driven huge numbers of the Muslim minority from the country.
Peace can only be achieved through “justice and a respect for human rights”, he said in a broadly-framed speech that also called for “respect for each ethnic group and its identity”.
Suu Kyi too made no reference to Rohingya in her speech. She spoke of the challenges her country faces as it creeps out of the shadow of five decades of military rule.
Myanmar’s government aimed to build the nation by “protecting rights, fostering tolerance, ensuring security for all”, she said in a short speech.
The pope earlier met leaders of several faiths in the majority-Buddhist country, calling for “unity in diversity” but made no mention of the Rohingya who have fled en masse to Bangladesh since a military crackdown began three months ago.
The leader of the Roman Catholic church will also travel to Bangladesh, where more than 620,000 Rohingya have fled to escape what Amnesty International has dubbed “crimes against humanity”.
Only about 700,000 of Myanmar’s 51 million people are Roman Catholic. Thousands of them have travelled from far and wide to see him and more than 150,000 people have registered for a mass that Francis will hold in Yangon on Wednesday.
Just days before the papal visit, Myanmar and Bangladesh signed a deal to start repatriating Rohingya refugees within two months. But details of the agreement – including the use of temporary shelters for returnees, many of whose homes have been burned to the ground – raise questions for Rohingya fearful of returning without guarantees of basic rights.
(With inputs from agencies)