Pope Francis meets Suu Kyi in Myanmar, avoids mention of Rohingya

NAYPYITAW, Myanmar — Pope Francis met with Myanmar leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi Tuesday, but avoided any public mention of the country's Muslim Rohingya minority who the U.S. says are being subjected to "ethnic cleansing.”

Francis spent his first full day in the Buddhist-majority country meeting its civilian leader, a day after hosting the military general in charge of the mission to drive Rohingya from the northern Rakhine state.

The pontiff’s speech was the most anticipated of his visit, given the outcry over a crackdown that has sent more than 620,000 Rohingya into neighboring Bangladesh from where they have reported entire villages were burned and looted, and women and girls were raped.

He previously has prayed for "our Rohingya brothers and sisters," lamented their suffering and called for them to enjoy full rights, but the term “Rohingya” is avoided inside Myanmar because the ethnic group is not a recognized minority.

RELATED: Portraits of injured Rohingya refugees

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Portraits of injured Rohingya refugees
Rohingya refugee Nur Kamal, 17, poses for a photograph to show his head injuries, at Kutupalang refugee camp, near Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh, October 13, 2017. Kamal described how soldiers assaulted him after they found the young shopkeeper hiding in his home in Kan Hpu village in Maungdaw. "They hit me with a rifle butt on my head first and then with a knife," Kamal said. His uncle found him unconscious in a pool of blood. It took them two weeks to get to Bangladesh. "We want justice," Kamal said. "We want the international community to help us obtain justice." REUTERS/Jorge Silva SEARCH "ROHINGYA INJURIES" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Rohingya refugees Mohamed Heron, 6, and his brother Mohamed Akter, 4, pose for a portrait to show burns on their bodies at Kutupalong refugee camp, near Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh, October 14, 2017. Boys' uncle Mohamed Inus said burns resulted from Myanmar's armed forces firing rockets at their village. Two of their siblings, one seven years old and the other a 10-month-old infant, died in the attack, according to the uncle. Their father was held by the military and has not been heard of since. "These two children survived when our village was fired on with rockets," Inus said. Fleeing along with other villagers who abandoned their scorched homes, the boys reached Bangladesh after a three-day trek. At Kutupalong, they were treated for three weeks for their burns at a Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) clinic. REUTERS/Jorge Silva SEARCH "ROHINGYA INJURIES" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Rohingya refugee Imam Hossain, 42, sleeps on the ground at Kutupalang refugee camp, near Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh, October 14, 2017. Hossain said he was returning home after teaching at a madrassa in his village when three men attacked him with knives. The next day, he made his wife and two children leave with other villagers fleeing to Bangladesh. He reached Cox's Bazar later. He was still searching for his family. "I want to ask the Myanmar government why they are harming the Rohingya? Why do Buddhists hate us? Why do you torture us? What is wrong with us?" he said. REUTERS/Jorge Silva SEARCH "ROHINGYA INJURIES" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Rohingya refugee Abdu Rahaman, 73, poses for a photograph at Leda refugee camp in Bangladesh, October 15, 2017. Rahaman, a merchant from Maungdaw, was ambushed while walking on a mountain path with other refugees. A machete thrown at his feet severed three toes as he ran from his attackers. With his foot bleeding through a tourniquet made from his longyi, or sarong, Rahaman walked for two more hours, before his nephew and friends carried him across the border. "Our future is not good," he said. "Allah must help us. The international community has to do something." REUTERS/Jorge Silva SEARCH "ROHINGYA INJURIES" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
ATTENTION EDITORS - VISUAL COVERAGES OF SCENES OF INJURY Rohingya refugee Momtaz Begum, 30, poses for a photograph at Balukhali refugee camp in Bangladesh October 19, 2017. Begum told how soldiers came to her village demanding valuables. "I told them I was poor and had nothing. One of them started beating me saying, 'If you have no money, then we will kill you.'" After beating her, they locked her inside her house and set the roof on fire. She escaped to find her three sons dead and her daughter beaten and bleeding. Momtaz fled to Bangladesh where she spent 20 days at the MSF clinic receiving treatment for burns to her face and body. "What can I say about the future, if now we have no food, no house, no family. We cannot think about the future. They have killed that as well." REUTERS/Jorge Silva SEARCH "ROHINGYA INJURIES" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Rohingya refugee Anwara Begum, 36, poses for a photograph at Kutupalang refugee camp, near Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh, October 13, 2017. Begum said she woke to find her home in Maungdaw township, in the northernmost part of Rakhine state, in flames. Before she could get out, the burning roof caved in on her and her nylon clothes melted onto her arms. Begum's husband carried his wife for eight days to reach the Kutupalong camp. "I thought I was going to die. I tried to stay alive for my children," Begum said, adding she was still waiting for treatment for her burns. REUTERS/Jorge Silva SEARCH "ROHINGYA INJURIES" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Rohingya refugee Setara Begum, 12, poses for a photograph at Nayapara refugee camp in Bangladesh, October 14, 2017. Begum was among nine siblings in their home in Maungdaw when it was hit by a rocket. "I saved eight of my nine children from the burning house, but Setara was trapped inside," said her mother, Arafa. "I could see her crying in the middle of the fire, but it was difficult to save her. By the time we could reach her, she was badly burned." Setara's father carried her for two days to Bangladesh.�The young girl received no treatment for the severe burns to her feet. Her feet healed. But she has no toes. The trauma has scarred her psychologically. "She has been mute from that day, and doesn't speak to anyone," her mother said. "She only cries silently." REUTERS/Jorge Silva SEARCH "ROHINGYA INJURIES" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Rohingya refugee Mohamed Jabair, 21, poses for a photograph to show burns on his bodies, which he said he sustained when his house was set on fire in Myanmar, at Kutupalang refugee camp, near Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh, October 17, 2017. Knocked unconscious and badly burned, Jabair was carried by his brother and others for four days to Cox's Bazar. "I was blind for many weeks and admitted to a government hospital in Cox's Bazar for 23 days. I was frightened that I would be blind forever," he said. Jabair said money sent by relatives in Malaysia had run out and he could no longer afford treatment. REUTERS/Jorge Silva SEARCH "ROHINGYA INJURIES" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Rohingya refugee Ansar Allah, 11, poses for a photograph at Leda refugee camp in Bangladesh, October 15, 2017. Allah showed a large, livid scar - the result of a gunshot wound. "They sprayed us with bullets, as our house was burning," his mother Samara said. "It was a bullet half the size of my index finger," she said, before adding, "I can't stop thinking, why did God put us in that dangerous situation?" REUTERS/Jorge Silva SEARCH "ROHINGYA INJURIES" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Rohingya refugee Kalabarow, 50, poses for a photograph at Leda refugee camp, in Bangladesh, October 15, 2017. Kalabarow said her husband, daughter and one son were killed when soldiers fired on her village in Maungdaw. She was hit in her right foot. She lay where she fell, pretending to be dead, for several hours before a grandson found her. During their 11-day journey to Bangladesh, a village doctor amputated her infected foot and four men carried her on a stretcher made of bamboo and a bedsheet. "As we walked through the forest, we saw burnt villages and dead bodies. I thought we would never be safe," she said. REUTERS/Jorge Silva SEARCH "ROHINGYA INJURIES" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Mohammed Shoaib, 7, who was shot on his chest before crossing the border from Myanmar in August, shows his injury outside a medical centre after seeing a doctor, at Kutupalong refugee camp near Cox?s Bazar, Bangladesh November 5, 2017. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Mohammed Shoaib, 7, who was shot on his chest before crossing the border from Myanmar in August, shows his injury outside a medical centre after seeing a doctor, at Kutupalong refugee camp near Cox?s Bazar, Bangladesh November 5, 2017. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
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Several high-profile figures, including former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and Myanmar Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, urged Francis not to utter the term, fearing a potential blowback against Myanmar's tiny Catholic community.

The pope spoke obliquely, offering encouragement to the “to all those who are working to build a just, reconciled and inclusive social order.”

“The future of Myanmar must be peace, a peace based on respect for the dignity and rights of each member of society, respect for each ethnicity,” he said.

Hours earlier, he met the commander responsible for the crackdown, Gen. Min Aung Hlaing.

The Vatican didn't provide details of the contents of the 15-minute "courtesy visit," except to say that “they spoke of the great responsibility of the authorities of the country in this moment of transition" and that the pair exchanged gifts. Francis gave the general a medallion of the trip, while the general gave the pope a harp in the shape of a boat, and an ornate rice bowl.

Rohingya Muslims have long faced state-supported discrimination in Myanmar, and were stripped of citizenship in 1982, denying them almost all rights and rendering them stateless. They cannot travel freely, practice their religion, or work as teachers or doctors, and they have little access to medical care, food or education. The Myanmar government and most of the country’s Buddhists consider the Rohingya Bengali migrants from Bangladesh living illegally in the country.

RELATED: Inside a Rohingya refugee camp

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Inside a Rohingya refugee camp
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Inside a Rohingya refugee camp
A Rohingya refugee woman hangs her washing out in Balukhali refugee camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh October 22, 2017. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
Sufated, a 10-month-old malnourished Rohingya boy, cries while being weighed at the Action Against Hunger center in Kutupalong refugee camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh October 22, 2017. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Rohingya refugees who crossed the border from Myanmar this week take shelter at a school in Kutupalong refugee camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh October 22, 2017. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Rohingya refugee children carry supplies through Balukhali refugee camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, October 23, 2017. REUTERS/Hannah McKay
Rohingya refugees travel on a truck, as they shift to another camp, outside the Palong Khali refugee camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh October 23, 2017. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
A Rohingya refugee boy fetches water from a water pump in Kutupalong refugee camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, October 23, 2017. REUTERS/Hannah McKay
Rohingya refugees carry an injured man after a fight broke out between families at the Palong Khali refugee camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh October 23, 2017. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
Rohingya refugees walk inside the Palong Khali refugee camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh October 23, 2017. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
Rohingya refugees manually drill a borewell at the Palong Khali refugee camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh October 23, 2017. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
Ruzina Akhter, 10, whose parents died while crossing the Myanmar border, cooks food inside a shelter at a refugee camp in Palong Khali near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh October 22, 2017. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
Rohingya refugees stand outside their shelter on hillock at a refugee camp in Palong Khali near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh October 22, 2017. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
A Rohingya refugee boy bathes at a refugee camp in Palong Khali district in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, October 22, 2017. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
Sowkot, 20, a pregnant Rohingya refugee, is examined in a women's clinic in Balukhali refugee camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, October 23, 2017. REUTERS/Hannah McKay
An army soldier gestures, as he asks Rohingya refugees to stand in a queue, outside a relief distribution centre, at the Palong Khali refugee camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh October 23, 2017. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
Rohingya refugee children stand in Palong Khali refugees camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, October 22, 2017. REUTERS/Hannah McKay
A Rohingya refugee girl holds her sister as she sits outside a medical center at a refugee camp in Palong Khali district, near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh October 22, 2017. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
Rohingya refugees line up to get food from Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA) near Balukhali refugees camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh October 21, 2017. REUTERS/ Zohra Bensemra
A Rohingya refugee boy carries a fish in Kutupalong refugees camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh October 21, 2017. REUTERS/ Zohra Bensemra
Rohingya refugees walk in mud in Kutupalong refugees camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, October 20, 2017. REUTERS/ Zohra Bensemra
Rohingya refugees who crossed the border from Myanmar this week take shelter at a school in Kotupalang refugee camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh October 21, 2017. REUTERS/ Zohra Bensemra
Zannat, 8, a Rohingya refugee, stands at the entrance to Kutupalong refugee camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, October 23, 2017. REUTERS/Hannah McKay
Rohingya refugees offload humanitarian aid into Kutupalong refugee camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, October 23, 2017. REUTERS/Hannah McKay
Rohingya refugees are registered by Bangladeshi army personnel at a registration center in Kutupalong refugees camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, October 20, 2017. REUTERS/ Zohra Bensemra
A Rohingya refugee girl who crossed the border from Myanmar this week sleeps beside his family belongings as he take shelter at a school in Kotupalang refugee camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh October 21, 2017. REUTERS/ Zohra Bensemra
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Myanmar's army denies accusations of rape, torture, murder and forced displacement.

The latest violence erupted in August, when Myanmar security forces responded to militant attacks with a scorched-earth campaign that has sent many Rohingya fleeing to Bangladesh, where the pope will also visit on his trip.

Human rights groups had hoped the pope would not pull his punches in Myanmar.

“The Rohingya have little left besides their group name after years of statelessness, discriminatory restrictions on movement and access to life-sustaining services, and being targeted by a military subjecting them to ethnic cleansing and atrocities,” Phil Robertson, deputy director for Human Rights Watch in Asia, told Reuters earlier this month. “The Pope absolutely should stand up for the Rohingya by using the name Rohingya.”

In 2015, Pope Francis angered Turkey when he used the word “genocide” to describe the World War I mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks.

The Turkish government, which denies that the deaths constituted a genocide, recalled its ambassador to the Vatican in protest.

Alastair Jamieson reported from London.

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