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Trudeau holds "very direct" talk with Myanmar's Suu Kyi about state-led violence

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stands next to Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi before a bilateral meeting at the APEC Summit in Danang, Vietnam Friday November 10, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
November 10, 2017 - 9:17 AM

DANANG, Vietnam - Justin Trudeau used a face-to-face meeting Friday with Myanmar's leader Aung San Suu Kyi to lay out some of the evidence he has seen on the state-led violence that has shaken her country and set off a huge refugee crisis.

The prime minister met with Suu Kyi for 45 minutes on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation leaders' summit in Danang, Vietnam.

It was Trudeau's first meeting with Suu Kyi, an honorary Canadian citizen, since a crackdown by Myanmar's security forces began in late August. The alleged attacks have forced more than 600,000 Rohingya Muslims into exile in neighbouring Bangladesh.

The crisis has damaged the once-celebrated global image of Suu Kyi, who is a Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

Bob Rae, Canada's special envoy for the Rohingya crisis, joined Trudeau at the meeting. The former Liberal MP said Trudeau was "very direct" with Suu Kyi and the two leaders didn't immediately agree with each other.

"I think it's fair to say we feel that more needs to be done and more could be done," Rae, who briefed Trudeau on Friday on his recent visit to the region, told reporters in Danang.

"There are serious issues that we have to deal with and obviously this is a major, not only humanitarian crisis, but also a political crisis."

Suu Kyi has faced widespread international criticism for not speaking out against allegations that include arson, rape and shootings by Myanmar soldiers and Buddhist mobs.

The United Nations and Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, who also attended Friday's meeting, have said the violence against the Rohingya amounts to ethnic cleansing.

"It's a pleasure to meet again with state counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi — an opportunity to talk about a number of issues, including the refugee situation and how Canada can continue to help in a situation that, obviously, a lot of people back home are concerned about," Trudeau said after shaking hands with Suu Kyi as they began their meeting.

Rae said Canada has committed to remain engaged with Myanmar and to provide help in any way it can to see the refugees safely repatriated back to their homes, and away from the terrible conditions of an overcrowded camp.

He acknowledged it won't be easy.

Rae said Suu Kyi admitted during Friday's meeting that there has been fear and a history of oppression, which have to be dealt with.

She also expressed a strong willingness, he said, to engage with Bangladesh to allow for the return of refugees to Myanmar and to rebuild based on a plan laid out by former UN secretary general Kofi Annan.

"But for us the key question is: it's not what you say, it's what you do. And that, I think, is where we're going to have to continue to push hard to make sure that there's implementation of basic steps that need to happen," Rae said.

Suu Kyi, he added, faces a difficult task because she wields limited control in a country that has been ruled by a military junta for decades. She is the de facto head of Myanmar's civilian government.

Suu Kyi also faces a potential domestic backlash if she speaks on behalf of the Rohingya, who have been the target of anti-Muslim rhetoric.

Canadian officials, who have spoken on the condition of anonymity, have said Ottawa has been reluctant to overtly blame Suu Kyi for the violence in her country because it believes Myanmar's military is using it to undermine her reputation.

Still, several fellow peace prize winners have publicly condemned the former political prisoner for what they see as her apparent indifference to the plight of the Rohingya.

Trudeau spoke with her in September and also wrote her a letter to outline what she and the government of Myanmar must do to "protect innocent lives" and act according to the expectations of Canada and the world.

The Liberal government has come under pressure to strip Suu Kyi of her honorary Canadian citizenship.

In 2007, Suu Kyi became the first woman — and one of only five people — to be granted honorary Canadian citizenship. John Baird, Canada's then-foreign affairs minister, travelled to Myanmar in 2012 where he personally conferred honorary citizenship on Suu Kyi.

— with files from Associated Press

News from © The Canadian Press, 2017
The Canadian Press

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