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Freeland to walk a fine line on Suu Kyi in address to pro-Rohingya rally

September 15, 2017 - 1:46 PM

OTTAWA - Canada has been reluctant to overtly blame Aung San Suu Kyi for the violence against her country's Muslim minority because it believes Myanmar's military is using it to undermine her global reputation, officials say.

Canada believes elements in Myanmar's powerful military — which stands accused of driving 400,000 Rohingya Muslims into neighbouring Bangladesh and torching their villages as they flee — see the current crisis as an opportunity to weaken Suu Kyi's ambitions to bring democracy to their country.

That view was presented Friday by Canadian officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the seriousness of the three-week-old crisis that has helped transform Suu Kyi from a symbol of freedom to a target of international derision.

Suu Kyi has been widely criticized for not speaking up in defence of her country's persecuted Muslim minority, sparking calls for her to be stripped of her Nobel Peace Prize as well as her honorary Canadian citizenship.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland is to address a rally in support of the Rohingya in Toronto on Saturday in which she is expected to call on Suu Kyi to speak out against the violence.

Officials say Freeland recognizes that Suu Kyi is in a precarious political position because she does not control the actions of her military, which once ruled her country with impunity and placed her under house arrest before she prevailed and won power in democratic elections.

The government wants to be cautious about being overtly critical of Suu Kyi, while at the same time stressing its deep concern over how the current crisis could undo her efforts to bring democracy to Myanmar, also known as Burma.

Ahmed Ramadan, spokesman for the pro-Rohingya rally organizers, said Freeland's appearance at the Toronto event shows the government's commitment to helping end the violence, but it still needs to do more.

Canada should allow Suu Kyi to keep her honorary citizenship because it can be used as a wedge to pressure her to speak out, said Ramadan, of Justice For All/Burma Task Force, a non-profit organization set up four years ago to advocate specifically for the Rohingya.

"It's important that Canada uses that relationship they have with her to end the atrocity that's going on right now, but also to create a long-term solution," he said.

Ramadan said Canada should try to send its ambassador into the scorched Rakhine state because the prying eyes of a foreign diplomat would save lives by forcing the government to end the killing.

Officials said Friday that Myanmar has rebuffed several recent requests by Canada and other western countries to send envoys into Rakhine for a first-hand look.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said this week the violence against the Rohingya amounts to "ethnic cleansing."

Suu Kyi has said her government is fighting a militant insurgency.

The UN estimates 240,000 children are among the 400,000 Rohingya who have fled Myanmar since late August recounting attacks by government troops and Buddhist mobs.

To help address that growing problem, Canada announced a modest contribution of extra money Friday to help Bangladesh cope with the influx of Rohingya Muslims.

International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau said the additional $2.55 million will target care for women, new mothers and children under five. So far this year, Canada has committed to $6.63 million in humanitarian assistance funding to aid partners in Myanmar and Bangladesh to help conflict-affected people, including the Rohingya.

The announcement follows a $4.3 million contribution by the European Commission earlier this week to help deal with the crisis.

The funds will also help victims of gender-based violence, and will be given to three different United Nations agencies, she said.

Bibeau reiterated Canada's concern over the violence that has led to the mass displacement.

"We also urge the authorities in Myanmar to take measures to protect all civilians from the ongoing violence and we call for the full, unimpeded resumption of humanitarian assistance activities for UN and international humanitarian organizations in Myanmar," she said in a statement.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2017
The Canadian Press

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