Trip in MyanmarTravel in Myanmar
Myanmar (Burma) Office Trips
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Firstly, welcome to a periodic set of corporate blogging events that will provide hands-on insight and shed a little bit of insight into Myanmar's working world.
Reflection on Pope Francis' journey to Myanmar and Bangladesh
Pope Francis' visit to Myanmar and Bangladesh last weekend was by no means inconclusive. It took place in the middle of a violent outbreak in Rakhine State in West Burma, which the UN Head of Mission for International Change, many UNHCR, and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson have all described as racial cleanup.
He has earned a fame as a champion of the impoverished, the impotent, the displaced and the migrant, and so it seemed self-evident that he would stand up for the Rohingya in Myanmar and Bangladesh. Since August, not only have more than 600,000 Rohingya escaped to Bangladesh, but the situation in the Bangladesh migration camp is also deteriorating.
It noted this in a recently published multi-sectoral coordination group reporting on Bangladesh's situation for Rohingya refugees: Rohingya has become one of the world's biggest and fastest-growing centres for displaced persons, with about half a million inhabitants who live in extreme proximity to each other, without having direct contact to essential facilities such as restrooms or hospitals.
Even before the journey, the Papacy was said to have been pressurized by Myanmar's Catholics not to publicly denounce Myanmar's treatment of the state of Rakhine, or even to use the term Rohingya. You may have done this out of concern that if the Papacy criticized the country's political and civil rulers for their role in racial clean-ups, Catholics in Myanmar would become the target of force because of the Pope's words.
Moreover, some Roman Catholics were afraid that everything the Papacy did to anger Myanmar's leadership could jeopardise the relationship between the Vatican and Naypyidaw; both sides only entered into political diplomacy in May this year. Francis is well-versed in politics, but this has always been a very sensitive journey.
Finally, Pope Francis did not openly criticize the Myanmar administration or even use the term Rohingya until he abandoned Myanmar to see the Rohingya people and to argue the crises with the Bangladeshi leadership. Myanmar's political and civil rulers are refusing to use the term "Rohingya" at all to deny the Rohingya's alleged outsiderhood.
In the midst of widespread public opinion, the Holy Father advocated his way back to Rome and proposed to the reporter that he would speak openly with the Myanmar leadership about the Rakhine conflict and their responsibilities for it. He proposed to some journalists that he actually used the term Rohingya in personal conversations with Myanmar's leader.
Certainly, in his dealings with civil, political and even some Myanmar political and even Christian believers, the Holy Father must have encountered the greatest impediment that all international rulers, legal defenders and embassies face in overcoming the Rakhine crisis: the great majority of Myanmar's population either seems to endorse or is unaffected by the government's stance towards Rakhine.
That is no excuse for anyone outside, as well as the Supreme Pontiff, to prevent criticising Myanmar for the Rakhine conflict or imposing penalties on supporters of ethnocleans. But the fact that a plurality of Myanmar's people seem to be supporting the violent drive that has propelled up to two-thirds of Rohingya from Myanmar to Bangladesh means that the words and deeds of outside observers seem to drive most Myanmar's political and civic leadership into a stash.
Myanmar's people seem to support Myanmar's army more and more, no matter how abusive it is in the state of Rakhine. Although Pope Francis has said that he is a keen advocate of Myanmar's democratization - and there is no reasonable cause to question his real support for the move - his choice to join Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing in demanding that the Pope should convene with the Supreme General before he meets with Aung San Suu Kyi, the civil leader, is not conducive to the democratization of the country.
In the assembly the general is said to have said to the Holy Father that there is "no religion discrimination" in Myanmar. Encouraging the Papacy to see him first is another sign to the people of Myanmar that Min Aung Hlaing is in government in Myanmar and that overseas rulers should be treating him as the true heir.
Upon his comeback to Rome, the Holy Father made it clear to the journalists that his encounter with Myanmar's supreme general had nothing to do with his encounter with the de facto civil female head Aung San Suu Kyi, whom he had been looking for and whom he actually wanted to see.
As an answer to a query in his aircraft about his encounter with the Supreme General, the Holy Father stated: These encounters where I met others (for example with Suu Kyi) and those where I met them. But few Myanmar residents will have seen this copy of the news briefing, while many have listened to or even learnt about St. Francis's encounter with Min Aung Hlaing and only later with Aung San Suu Kyi.
He was again his accustomed open self with the Rohingya fugitives he encountered in Bangladesh.