Ot­tawa to back Myanmar’s Ro­hingya at UN

Times Colonist - - Canada/World - MICHELLE MCQUIGGE

TORONTO — Canada’s for­eign af­fairs min­is­ter said the gov­ern­ment is very con­cerned about the plight of Ro­hingya Mus­lims in Myanmar and plans to speak up on their be­half.

Chrys­tia Free­land said both she and Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau plan to “fo­cus” on the is­sue at this week’s United Na­tions Gen­eral Assem­bly in New York.

She did not elab­o­rate on the spe­cific ac­tions she or Trudeau plan to take.

Free­land also told a Toronto rally in sup­port of the Ro­hingya that she also dis­cussed the is­sue with Kofi An­nan, the for­mer UN sec­re­tary-gen­eral who is lead­ing a com­mis­sion in­ves­ti­gat­ing the cri­sis un­fold­ing in Myanmar.

She said an­other key fo­cus for Canada is get­ting the am­bas­sador into the area of heav­i­est con­flict to report first-hand on the sit­u­a­tion.

Myanmar’s pow­er­ful mil­i­tary is ac­cused of torch­ing the homes of 400,000 Ro­hingya Mus­lims, forc­ing them to flee to neigh­bour­ing Bangladesh as refugees. Myanmar’s leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, has come un­der harsh in­ter­na­tional crit­i­cism for fail­ing to speak out against the vi­o­lence, with some ar­gu­ing she should be stripped of both her No­bel Peace Prize and her honorary Cana­dian cit­i­zen­ship.

Free­land did not ad­dress those con­cerns, but told the rally that Trudeau ex­pressed his “very strong con­dem­na­tion” of the treat­ment of the Ro­hingya di­rectly to Suu Kyi last week.

Free­land said Trudeau also asked Suu Kyi to “raise her voice” on be­half of the Mus­lim mi­nor­ity in her coun­try.

“I want you to know that this is an is­sue that mat­ters to me very, very much,” she told the crowd. “It’s an is­sue that mat­ters very much to the prime min­is­ter.”

Of­fi­cials speak­ing on con­di­tion of anonymity have said Canada has been re­luc­tant to overtly blame Suu Kyi for the vi­o­lence against the Ro­hingya be­cause it be­lieves Myanmar’s mil­i­tary is us­ing it to un­der­mine her global rep­u­ta­tion.

Canada be­lieves el­e­ments in Myanmar’s pow­er­ful mil­i­tary see the cri­sis as an op­por­tu­nity to weaken Suu Kyi’s am­bi­tions to bring democ­racy to their coun­try.

Of­fi­cials have said 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.

Free­land did not offer de­tails on the sub­stance of what she or Trudeau plan to do at the UN Assem­bly, but did say the is­sue is one that both would be “fo­cus­ing on.”

Free­land also em­pha­sized the im­por­tance of gain­ing am­bas­sado­rial ac­cess to Rakhine State, the scene of much of the vi­o­lence. Of­fi­cials have pre­vi­ously said that Myanmar has re­buffed sev­eral re­cent re­quests by Canada and other west­ern coun­tries to send en­voys into Rakhine for a first­hand look.

“Our am­bas­sador is seek­ing ac­cess to Rakhine State,” Free­land told the rally. “We would like our am­bas­sador to go there so we can have Cana­di­ans see­ing first-hand what is hap­pen­ing.”

An­other rally in sup­port of the Ro­hingya is planned in Ot­tawa for Sun­day af­ter­noon.

The 72nd ses­sion of the UN Gen­eral Assem­bly is slated to get un­der­way on Tues­day.

THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

For­eign Af­fairs Min­is­ter Chrys­tia Free­land: “This is an is­sue that mat­ters to me very, very much.”

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