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Canada faults Myanmar government for failing to end violence against Rohingya Muslims

Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and honorary Canadian citizen, made a rare appearance at a joint news conference with India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the Presidential Palace in Naypyitaw, Myanmar on Wednesday.

SOE ZEYA TUN/REUTERS

Canada is blaming Aung San Suu Kyi's government and Myanmar's military for failing to stop violence that has forced more than 120,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee to Bangladesh in less than two weeks.

Parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs Omar Alghabra said the Liberal government has asked Ms. Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and honorary Canadian citizen, to find a way to stop the violence and to work with international partners to achieve peace. The Rohingya Muslims live in Rakhine state and suffer from serious restrictions on their basic rights.

Ms. Suu Kyi blamed "terrorists" for a "huge iceberg of misinformation" for the conflict in Rakhine in a statement this week.

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But Ottawa is pointing fingers at her. "The violence is still ongoing so obviously there's a failure on part of the military, on part of the government," Mr. Alghabra told The Globe and Mail on the sidelines of the Liberal caucus meeting in Kelowna, B.C., on Wednesday.

"I don't think we heard the end of this yet about what our role is going to be. As I said, we are still assessing the situation and we're looking for ways for Canada to be constructive. We are in discussion as well with our embassy over there, with our officials on the ground."

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The government also said it will provide $1-million for humanitarian needs, including water, sanitation, food and shelter, stemming from the continuing violence in Rakhine.

That's in addition to previous commitments of tens of millions of dollars for the country as it transitioned to democracy. In a tweet on Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressed concern about the "flow of refugees from Myanmar and reports of serious abuse against the Rohingya," but stopped short of criticizing Ms. Suu Kyi or her government.

The violence began last month after Rohingya insurgents attacked dozens of police posts and an army base in Rakhine. The military responded by killing at least 400 people, triggering a massive exodus of Rohingya villagers. The United Nations refugee agency says that more than 123,000 have fled Myanmar – formerly known as Burma – into Bangladesh since the violence broke out. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned the situation could spiral into a "humanitarian catastrophe."

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Meanwhile, Myanmar national security adviser Thaung Tun told a news conference on Wednesday that Myanmar is counting on China and Russia to block any UN Security Council censure on the displacement of Rohingya Muslims.

Ms. Suu Kyi, Myanmar's de facto leader, is known for her struggle against years of military rule, but she has faced recent international criticism for failing to condemn the treatment of the Rohingya people, including from fellow Nobel Peace Prize laureate and honorary Canadian citizen Malala Yousafzai. Some critics, including former Liberal ministers Lloyd Axworthy and Allan Rock, have called for Ms. Suu Kyi's Nobel Prize to be revoked.

The recent escalation of violence comes less than three months after Ms. Suu Kyi travelled to Ottawa to meet with Mr. Trudeau. Mr. Alghabra said the government repeatedly raised the plight of the Rohingya people with Ms. Suu Kyi during the visit.

"We told her that Canadians are following this case and there's deep concern," Mr. Alghabra said. "She got the message loud and clear … from our government, from our Prime Minister, from the Minister of Foreign Affairs, that our government, Canadians, are following the situation with deep concern."

However, Myanmarese advocacy groups in Canada criticized the Liberal government for failing to highlight the Rohingya insurgent attack that prompted the recent violence in Rakhine.

"The statement made by the government of Canada omitted the crucial part, which is how the recent violence started off. It focuses on one victim group of the violence without mentioning about the other victimized community members who were initially killed by Islamist extremist [groups] active in the areas," said Tin Maung Htoo, a board member of the Canadian Friends of Burma.

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Zaw Kyaw, president of the Canadian Burma Ethnic Nationalities Organization, said the Canadian government needs to listen to both sides before taking a position on the conflict, noting that the Liberals failed to condemn Rohingya "terrorist attacks." Mr. Kyaw also highlighted that Ms. Suu Kyi does not have the authority to direct the security matters under the 2008 constitution, which retained significant power for the military.

Canadian human rights groups called on the government to put more pressure on Ms. Suu Kyi and her government to co-operate with a UN Human Rights Council's fact-finding mission, whose members have been denied visas by Myanmar.

"Independent monitors in the region, they are non-existent at this point and the Myanmar government has not been providing access. The Canadian government needs to be really persistent and insistent in terms of asking for independent access," said Gloria Nafziger, refugee co-ordinator for Amnesty International Canada.

Farida Deif, Canada director at Human Rights Watch, said Ms. Suu Kyi needs to be held to account for her "deafening" silence in the face of "horrific reports."

With reports from Laura Stone in Kelowna, B.C., and the Associated Press

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Michelle Zilio is a reporter in The Globe and Mail’s Ottawa bureau. Previously, she was the associate producer of CTV’s Question Period and a political writer for CTVNews.ca. Michelle has also worked as a parliamentary reporter for iPolitics, covering foreign affairs, defence and immigration, and as a city desk reporter at the Ottawa Citizen. More

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