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Canadian ambassador’s Myanmar Safety detail draws ire amid accusations of atrocities against Rohingya

07 Oct 17
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Human-rights groups are sounding the alarm on a diplomatic trip that the Canadian ambassador to Myanmar participate in because safety for the delegation was provided by a police force accused of atrocities against Rohingya Muslims, including sexually assaulting them and burning their villages.

Earlier this week, Karen MacArthur, Canadian ambassador to Myanmar, combined 19 diplomats for a visit to the remote northern region of Rakhine state, the spectacle of violence that has forced more than half a million Rohinyga to flee over the last month. Myanmar’s Border Guard Police provided security for the diplomats during the trip, which was coordinated by the Government of Myanmar.

Human Rights Watch expressed concern the Myanmar government could use the trip as a “propaganda tool” to pay up human-rights abuses in Rakhine, which Canada and the UN have called ethnic cleansing.

“That is something which is truly quite troubling because the boundary security police have serious allegations of involvement in several of abuses that we have seen taking place,” said Farida Deif, Canada director at Human Rights Watch.

Last month, Amnesty International reported the Border Guard Police and army personnel were seen planting land mines near the Myanmar-Bangladesh border. Rohingya news agencies also have reported that border guards were involved in the burning of villages in Rakhine, where the Rohingya suffer from severe restrictions on their fundamental rights. Along with the Border Guard Police participate in rape, invasive body searches and sexual assault in Rakhine in late 2016, according to Human Rights Watch.

Underneath the 2008 constitution, de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi doesn’t have any control over security issues. The Border Guard Police report to the Ministry of Home Affairs, which is controlled by the army.

Access to Rakhine is very limited for diplomats, journalists and humanitarian groups. Speaking on background, a Canadian government official said the only way in was to take a trip arranged by Myanmar’s authorities, with security provided by the Border Guard Police.

Alex Neve, secretary-general of Amnesty International Canada, said that while his organization would not rely on government security forces for a mission, it is not uncommon for diplomats to do so.

“Diplomats always, always, operate through government channels and thus it is not at all uncommon for them to take these sorts of trips,” Mr. Neve said.

The government official said the diplomats closely considered the advantages and disadvantages of accepting the excursion. The diplomats, which also comprised the U.S., French and German ambassadors to Myanmar, negotiated several conditions with the Myanmar authorities and Border Police Guard: which they see an isolated Rohingya village, that authorities stay back when they talk with villagers and the people they talk with be protected from reprisals.

Despite meeting Rohingya about the assignment, the diplomats issued a statement that made no direct reference to them — a glaring omission in comparison with Canada’s recent statements about the situation in Myanmar, which were directly mentioned the minority group.

“The differences between these statements can leave the impression that the authorities in Ottawa is ready to condemn abuses in very, very powerful language mainly for domestic consumption, while it is still business as usual with Burma on the earth concerning the embassy interaction,” Ms. Deif said, with the former name for Myanmar.

“That sends a very dangerous message{}”

The Canadian government official said diplomats on the ground are sensitive to some reference to the Rohingya since they have to keep relations with Myanmar’s government.

The recent violence started at the end of August, after Rohingya insurgents attacked police posts and a military base in Rakhine. Myanmar’s army responded by murdering hundreds of people, triggering an exodus of over 500,000 Rohingya to Bangladesh.

Using a report by the Associated Press

Courtesy: The Globe And Mail

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