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ICC Note: Despite overwhelming evidence for the persecution of the religious minorities in Myanmar, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, whom many hold responsible for Rohingya crisis, has told Pope Francis who is currently visiting the country that there is no religious discrimination in Myanmar. More than 630,000 Rohingya Muslims have been forced to leave the country since the military began its crackdown. In addition, ongoing conflicts in Myanmar have also forced 100,000 Christians to flee from the country. Some Christian refugees said that the authorities have killed and imprisoned people for their faith. The army clearly is blind to the crimes it commits. 

11/28/2017 Myanmar (CNN) – The general many hold responsible for the Rohingya refugee crisis has told Pope Francis there is “no religious discrimination” in Myanmar.

Senior General Min Aung Hlaing said all faiths in the country are able to worship freely following a meeting Monday with Francis after the pontiff arrived in Myanmar for his first trip to the staunchly Buddhist country.

“The Tatmadaw is making efforts to restore peace, and wish of all Tatmadawmen is to ensure peace of the nation,” he said, using an alternative name for the country’s army. “Myanmar has no discrimination among the ethnics.”

The Pope met Sr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing and other top generals in the former capital Yangon for a 15-minute “courtesy visit” followed by an exchange of gifts, according to Vatican spokesman Greg Burke.

The Myanmar military has been accused of pursuing a brutal crackdown on the Rohingya — a largely Muslim ethnic minority not officially recognized by Myanmar — following an outbreak of violence in August between soldiers and armed militants in Rakhine State, a poor region in the country’s west.

Since the crisis began, more than 620,000 Rohingya have fled across the border to neighboring Bangladesh, where the Pope will travel later this week. Francis has previously decried violence against the Rohingya, calling them his persecuted “brothers and sisters.”

Military might

The Myanmar government has repeatedly denied allegations they are conducting a systematic campaign of violence against the Rohingya, blaming the widespread damage on a militant insurgency.

However, the United States, the United Kingdom and the United Nations have all accused Myanmar of ethnic cleansing and the refugees share similar stories of killings, rape and torched villages.

Myanmar’s military still holds the balance of power in the country after its transition to partial democracy in 2015. The army oversees security operations, including those blamed for sparking the exodus of refugees from Rakhine.

Under the country’s constitution — crafted by a military junta before it handed over power to a mostly-civilian government — the generals still control the security forces, the police and key cabinet positions in the government.

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