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Myanmar has 'no religious discrimination', army chief tells Pope

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Myanmar's army chief Min Aung Hlaing said he told Pope Francis his country had "no religious discrimination" after the pair met late Monday, in a papal visit framed by the exodus of the Rohingya Muslim minority.

[YANGON] Myanmar's army chief Min Aung Hlaing said he told Pope Francis his country had "no religious discrimination" after the pair met late Monday, in a papal visit framed by the exodus of the Rohingya Muslim minority.

"Myanmar has no religious discrimination at all," he said in a Facebook post by his office. "Likewise our military too... (it) performs for the peace and stability of the country." The Tatmadaw, as his army is known, has been accused by the UN and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson of conducting a campaign of "ethnic cleansing" by driving 620,000 Rohingya from western Myanmar into Bangladesh since August.

Myanmar denies any wrongdoing despite testimony by refugees pointing to a widespread campaign of rape, murder and arson.

The Rohingya, who are effectively stateless, are subject to a suffocating web of state-enforced restrictions.

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Most are denied citizenship by Myanmar, which says they are illegal "Bengali" immigrants.

Last week Amnesty International called western Rakhine state a "crime scene", describing the restrictions on the Rohingya as tantamount to "apartheid".

The pope, who is visiting Myanmar to spread a message of peace, has spoken up several times for the Rohingya as the crisis has unfolded calling the benighted group "brothers and sisters".

His comments have enraged hardline Buddhist nationalists in Myanmar, who are now waiting to see if he uses the term "Rohingya" during his four-day trip.

Min Aung Hlaing's office said the senior general had welcomed the pope during a brief 15 minute meeting in Yangon and told the pontiff there was also "no discrimination between ethnic groups in Myanmar".

The Rohingya are not recognised as an official ethnic group.

AFP

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