News desk: Pope Francis has said he did not negotiate truths in the meeting with Myanmar’s military leaders including armed forces’ commander in chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing as he met them during his Myanmar tour, reports BSS. “I did not negotiate the truth . . . I made sure he understood that old ways are not viable nowadays (and) he received the message,” the Pope told newsmen accompanying him at the papal plane after his departure from Dhaka wrapping up his historic Myanmar and Bangladesh tour. A CNN correspondent who accompanied the pontiff on board said Francis characteriszed his “private meeting” with the general as a good conversation, noting that it was specifically requested by the senior general.
According to a Reuters journalist onboard, the Pope strongly hinted that he used the term ‘Rohingya’, the word Myanmar military detests, during the meeting with the Burmese generals. “I used words in order to arrive at the message and when I saw that the message had arrived, I dared to say everything that I wanted say,” the Pope said as asked if he used the word Rohingya during the meeting with the military leaders.
The journalists onboard said 80-year-old Francis then gave a reporter a mischievous grin and ended his answer with the Latin phrase “Intelligenti Pauca,” which means “Few words are enough for those who understand”. Talking to the accompanying newsmen, the Pope also defended his strategy of avoiding the term Rohingya” in Myanmar, saying that he did not want to risk shutting down dialogue with the country’s leaders and believed he got his message across to both the civilian and military leaderships without endangering the dialogue process.
“Had I said that word, I would have been slamming the door . . . (but) what I thought about it was already well known,” Francis said, adding that he mentioned their plight on various occasions from the Vatican.
He added: “For me, the most important thing is that message gets through, to try to say things one step at a time and listen to the responses.”
“I knew that if in the official speeches I would have used that word, they would have closed the door in our faces. But (in public) I described situations, rights, said that no one should be excluded, (the right to) citizenship, in order to allow myself to go further in the private meetings,” he said.
Predominantly Buddhist Myanmar does not recognise the mostly Muslim Rohingya as an ethnic group with its own identity but as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh while reports suggested Myanmar’s Roman Catholic Church authorities had advised him not to say it because it could spark a backlash against Christians and other minority groups.
AFP adds: Pope Francis on Saturday said he wept hearing the plight first-hand of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, adding that this meeting was a condition set for his trip to Myanmar and Bangladesh.
The Rohingya meeting was a highly symbolic gesture of solidarity with the Muslim minority fleeing violence in Myanmar, and the pontiff told journalists on his plane flying back to Rome that the refugees cried as well.
“I knew that I was going to meet the Rohingyas but I did not know where and how, for me it was one of the conditions of the trip,” he said.
The usually forthright pontiff walked a diplomatic tightrope during his four days in Myanmar — the first papal visit to the country — avoiding any direct reference to the Rohingya in public while appealing to Buddhist leaders to overcome “prejudice and hatred”.
In Bangladesh he addressed the issue head-on, meeting a group of Rohingya refugees from the squalid camps in southern Bangladesh in an emotional encounter in Dhaka.
“What Bangladesh has done for them is enormous, it’s an example of welcome,” he said.
“I wept, I tried to do it in a way that it couldn’t be seen,” he said. “They wept too.”
“I told myself ‘I cannot leave without saying a word to them’”.
The pope told the Rohingya: “In the name of all those who have persecuted you, who have harmed you, in the face of the world’s indifference, I ask for your forgiveness.”
The pope referred to the refugees as Rohingya, using the term for the first time on the tour in Bangladesh after the archbishop of Yangon advised him that doing so in Myanmar could inflame tensions and endanger Christians.
The word is politically sensitive in mainly Buddhist Myanmar because many there do not consider the Rohingya a distinct ethnic group, regarding them instead as interlopers from Bangladesh.
“If I had used the word during an official speech I would have slammed the door,” he said, adding: “They already knew what I thought.”
“For me the most important thing is that the message gets through,” he added.
The pope said he was “very satisfied” with his meetings in Myanmar and hinted that he expressed his opinion far more freely in private conversations with the country’s leaders than in his public appearances.
More than 620,000 Rohingya have crossed into Bangladesh since a militant attack on police posts in late August sparked a deadly crackdown by the Myanmar military.
They have given consistent accounts of mass rape, killings and villages deliberately burned to the ground by soldiers and Buddhist militia.
The two countries last month signed an agreement to begin repatriating refugees to Myanmar, but rights groups say they are concerned about plans to house them in camps away from their former homes — many of which have been destroyed.
During his tour the pope led well-attended open-air masses in Bangladesh and Myanmar, which both have small Christian populations.