OTTAWA – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke with Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Wednesday to express “deep concerns” over treatment of Muslims and other ethnic minorities in her country.
The phone call followed a chorus of cries for Canada to revoke the honorary citizenship it granted Suu Kyi in 2007.
The Prime Minister’s Office was silent on that point in its summary of the call, issued shortly after Trudeau took questions from the media at a cabinet retreat in St. John’s, N.L. The timing meant reporters were unable to ask the prime minister about his conversation with Suu Kyi.
An estimated 370,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar for neighbouring Bangladesh, saying they are running from attacks by government troops and Buddhist mobs.
Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, has been widely criticized in recent weeks for not doing more to protect them.
She says her government is fighting a militant insurgency.
According to the summary, Trudeau stressed to Suu Kyi the urgent need for Myanmar’s military and civilian leaders to take a strong stand in ending the violence and promote the protection of civilians and access for the United Nations and humanitarian groups.
Trudeau also underscored “the particular importance” of Suu Kyi’s role as “a moral and political leader.”
The two discussed “the need to defend and protect the rights of all minorities” and Trudeau offered Canada’s support to help build “a peaceful and stable society in Myanmar,” the summary said.
Suu Kyi will skip this month’s UN General Assembly meetings to address the problems at home, Myanmar’s government said Wednesday.
The crisis erupted on Aug. 25, when an insurgent Rohingya group attacked police outposts in Myanmar’s Rakhine state. That prompted Myanmar’s military to launch “clearance operations” against the rebels, setting off a wave of violence that has left hundreds dead and thousands of homes burned — mostly Rohingya in both cases.
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.
Many of the Rohingya who flooded into refugee camps in Bangladesh told of Myanmar soldiers shooting indiscriminately, burning their homes and warning them to leave or die. Others said they were attacked by Buddhist mobs.
UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein has said the actions in Rakhine state appear to be “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”
Suu Kyi has faced a barrage of international criticism and pressure since the crisis erupted.
While the Myanmar military denies it is targeting civilians, independent reports of horrific violence and even intentionally set landmines used against the Rohingya are shocking, said Canadian Green party Leader Elizabeth May.
She called on Suu Kyi to condemn her state’s horrific actions in the strongest possible terms. “Silence is complicity.”
Earlier this week, two New Democrat MPs said Suu Kyi’s response was “wholly unacceptable and entirely disappointing.”
“Under her leadership, Myanmar has refused access to human rights investigators, and Suu Kyi has denied ethnic cleansing. This is shameful,” said Helene Laverdiere, the party’s foreign affairs critic, and Cheryl Hardcastle, vice-chair of the House of Commons subcommittee on international human rights
Suu Kyi once lived under house arrest imposed by the military junta that ruled her country. She led her party to a convincing victory in 2015 elections.
— With Associated Press files