Myanmar army chief denies religious discrimination while meeting Pope

Myanmar’s army chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing sit inside a vehicle as he arrives to meet with Pope Francis in Yangon on 27 November 2017. Photo: Thura/Mizzima

Myanmar’s army chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing has told Pope Francis there is “no religious discrimination” in the country during talks that lasted fifteen minutes late on Monday.

The army chief told the Pope that “Myanmar has no religious discrimination at all. Likewise, our military too ... performs for the peace and stability of the country”, according to a Facebook post published by the general’s office a few hours after the meeting.

"Every soldier's goal is to build a stable and peaceful country," the general said in the statement. "There is also no discrimination between ethnic groups in Myanmar”.

The Vatican said the meeting with General Min Aung Hlaing and three officials from Myanmar’s bureau of special operations on Monday evening at the residence of the Myanmar archbishop lasted for 15 minutes.

Vatican spokesman Greg Burke didn’t provide details of the private meeting other than saying, “They spoke of the great responsibility of the authorities of the country in this moment of transition.”

Pope Francis presented the general a commemorative medal of his visit and Min Aung Hlaing gave the Pope a harp shaped like a boat and an ornate rice bowl, Burke said.

Francis’s meeting with the Commander-in-Chief had been scheduled for Wednesday morning, but was moved up to just a few hours after he landed in Myanmar on Monday.

The Pope is scheduled to meet State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi on today.

After touching down on Monday afternoon, the pope was greeted by a large crowd at the airport, many waving yellow and white Vatican flags and dressed in T-shirts bearing the slogan of the trip, “Love and Peace”. 

As he drove past, they raised slogans “We love Papa”.

More than 150,000 Catholics have registered for a Mass that the Pope will hold in Yangon on Wednesday , Catholic Myanmar Church spokesman Mariano Soe Naing told Mizzima.

He will wrap up his visit with a Mass for young people on Thursday, Naing said.

Thousands of them have already travelled to Yangon from all over the country by train and bus to greet the Pope on arrival.

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