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Trudeau urges Myanmar's Suu Kyi to take stand on Rohingya crisis

Recently arrived Rohingya refugees wait to receive aid donations on Sept. 13, 2017, in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh.

Allison Joyce/Getty Images

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau phoned Myanmar's beleaguered leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Wednesday to press her on the violence against Rohingya Muslims in her country, which has triggered a massive exodus of the ethnic minority.

Nearly 380,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh since Aug. 25, saying they are being shot at indiscriminately by Myanmar soldiers and attacked by Buddhist mobs. United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said ethnic cleansing is taking place against the minority in Rakhine State. "The humanitarian situation is catastrophic," he said. "People are dying and suffering in horrible numbers and we need to stop it."

Ms. Suu Kyi cancelled plans to attend this month's UN General Assembly meetings in order to address domestic security issues.

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Read more: The Globe in Bangladesh: Rohingya tales of terror emerge from hospital wards

Explainer: Who are the Rohingya and why are they fleeing Myanmar?

During their phone call, Mr. Trudeau expressed "deep concerns" to Ms. Suu Kyi, Myanmar's de facto leader over the treatment of Rohingya, according to a statement from the Prime Minister's Office. He stressed her role "as a moral and political leader," even though she does not have the constitutional authority to control the military.

Mr. Trudeau called on Myanmar's military, which retains significant power in the country, and civilian leaders "to take a strong stand in ending the violence, promoting the protection of civilians and promoting unimpeded access for the UN and international humanitarian actors."

Amnesty International Canada and Human Rights Watch have urged the government to step up 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, and allow humanitarian aid into the country.

Mr. Trudeau and Ms. Suu Kyi discussed the need to "defend and protect the rights of all minorities" and the Prime Minister offered Canada's support to "help build a peaceful and stable society in Myanmar," his office said. The conversation comes three months after Mr. Trudeau used a one-on-one meeting with Ms. Suu Kyi in Ottawa to raise the plight of Rohingya Muslims. They have faced decades of discrimination and persecution in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, where they are denied citizenship despite centuries-old roots in the country.

Ms. Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and honorary Canadian citizen, has recently faced a sustained chorus of international criticism for her failure to condemn the treatment of Rohingya.

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A petition calling on the Canadian government to revoke Ms. Suu Kyi's honorary Canadian citizenship has garnered more than 19,000 signatures as of Wednesday.

It was bestowed upon her by the former Conservative government for her "long struggle for freedom and democracy in her country."

Instead of attending the UN General Assembly's ministerial sessions, which open on Tuesday and run through Sept. 25, Ms. Suu Kyi will give a speech in Myanmar next week that will cover the same topics she would have addressed at the United Nations, presidential office spokesman Zaw Htay said.

Her appearance at last year's General Assembly was a landmark: her first since her party won elections in 2015 and replaced a military-dominated government. Even then, however, she faced criticism over Myanmar's treatment of Rohingya Muslims, whose name she did not utter.

The UN Security Council on Wednesday condemned the violence in Rakhine State that sparked the mass exodus of Rohingya. Members called for "immediate steps to end the violence" and efforts to de-escalate the situation, ensure protection of civilians and resolve the refugee problem.

Britain's UN Ambassador Matthew Rycroft said the council's press statement, which followed closed-door consultations, was the first statement the UN's most powerful body has made in nine years on the situation in Myanmar.

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He called it "an important first step."

The current outbreak of violence in Myanmar 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 government blames Rohingya for the violence, but journalists who visited the region found evidence that raises doubts about its claims that Rohingya set fire to their own homes.

With a report from Associated Press

Video: Landmines, guards trap Rohingya in 'no-man's land' (Reuters)
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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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