Vatican City (AFP) - Pope Francis will travel to Myanmar and Bangladesh later this year for a landmark visit set to focus international attention on the plight of the stateless Rohingya Muslim minority.
The leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics will be in Myanmar November 27-30 and neighbouring Bangladesh November 30-December 2, the Vatican announced on Monday.
The visit to Myanmar will be the first by any pope to the country formerly known as Burma. Former Pope John Paul II visited Bangladesh in 1986.
Francis has regularly spoken out in defence of the Rohingya, a persecuted Muslim group in predominantly Buddhist Myanmar.
In his latest comments on Sunday, he bemoaned the latest "sad reports of the persecution of a religious minority, our Rohingya brothers.
"I would like to express my closeness to them and all of us ask the Lord to save them and to prompt men and women of good faith to help them and ensure their full rights."
His comments came after clashes between Myanmar security forces and suspected Rohingya militants on Friday and Saturday left scores of people dead.
The fighting caused hundreds of civilians to flee remote villages in Rakhine state in northern Myanmar with most of them aiming to cross the border into mostly-Muslim Bangladesh.
The Vatican said Francis would visit Yangon and capital Naypyidaw while in Myanmar and Bangladesh's capital Dhaka on the second leg of his trip. The full programme has yet to be finalised.