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Pope Francis has defended his public silence over the plight of Rohingya Muslim refugees during his visit to Myanmar.

He urged respect for “each ethnicity and its identity” during a speech in the southeast Asian country, but stopped short of making specific reference to what the UN has labelled “a textbook campaign of ethnic cleansing”, with more than 620,000 Rohingya having fled Myanmar’s Rakhine state amid a military crackdown in recent months.

The pontiff waited until he was in Bangladesh on Friday before even mentioning the persecuted Muslims by name.

However, he told reporters aboard the papal plane on Saturday that he was confident his message had been heard during private meetings with Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi and military chief Min Aung Hlaing.

He said: “It’s true I didn’t have the pleasure of slamming the door in their face publicly with a denunciation. But I had the satisfaction of dialogue, and letting the other side dialogue, and in this way the message arrived.

“I didn’t negotiate the truth, I did it in such a way that he understood that it’s not viable to redo today the way things were done in the past. It was a good meeting. Civilised. And even there, the message arrived.”

Following talks with the Pope, Ms Suu Kyi referred to the Rohingya crisis as “the situation in the Rakhine state” which had “captured the attention of the world”.

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