Canada to open embassy in Burma

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said today that Canada will open an embassy in Burma following historic elections earlier this year.
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird meets Burmese President Thein Sein at the presidential palace in Naypyitaw in March. Baird said Friday that Canada will open an embassy in the country amid warming relations following democratic reforms. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said today that Canada will open an embassy in Burma following historic elections earlier this year.

"There's been an incredible amount of reform in the country over the past 18 months. We're impressed by that reform," Baird told reporters on a conference call from Bangkok, where he is holding meetings during a 15-day tour of Asia. He did not give a timeframe for the opening of the embassy.

A spokesman for Baird said they would announce the date for the opening when it was firm, and that they're working with the Burmese government on the process.

 "Obviously, although they've taken some very positive steps, there's still more progress required."

Asked about reports of ethnic cleansing against the Muslim minority in parts of the country, Baird said he'd raised his concerns in public.

"I met with my Burmese counterpart yesterday. I raised the concern in two of the northern regions — one is where there is significant challenges between the Muslim community and the central government," Baird said. "I registered our significant concern and encouraged them to use restraint and to seek to resolve the issue peacefully, and offered any and all support that Canada could offer in this regard."

Baird added: "I do note that they have had 11 major challenges in parts of the country and have resolved peacefully nine of the 11 situations and are in the process of solving another one, the 10th one, but we registered our significant concern," he said.

There were reports Friday that 10 humanitarian workers, including United Nations staff, had been detained in the western state of Rakhine, just a day after a visit to Burma by UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres. Baird said he wasn't aware of the arrests and couldn't comment.

Baird visited Burma in March, the first visit by a Canadian foreign minister, and met with democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi to discuss the country's democratic reforms.

Suu Kyi's release from decades-long house arrest and her victory in a byelection earlier this year have been hailed as key steps in the country's movement towards democracy. 

Western nations, including Canada, have been easing sanctions against the country imposed over the former ruling military junta's human rights violations. The junta stepped down last year and Burma, also known as Myanmar, has been transitioning to military-backed civilian rule.

With files from Laura Payton