Baird presents honorary Cdn. citizenship to Suu Kyi
Published Thursday, March 8, 2012 9:08PM EST
Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird has spoken with Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi about her fears of electoral fraud in Myanmar, and presented her with a certificate of honorary Canadian citizenship.
However, Baird reports that while there are some serious issues to be wary of, there seems to be real progress towards electoral reform.
"(Suu Kyi is) obviously pleased with the pace of reforms but at the same time holding back full judgment until the elections on April 1," he told CTV's Power Play in a telephone interview.
Baird said he was initially skeptical of Myanmar's commitments to reform, but he says the government appears to be following through on its promises.
He said Canada will look at its sanctions towards the country, if the elections prove to be fair.
On what is being called a historic visit to Myanmar, also known as Burma, Baird met with activist Suu Kyi on Thursday. There, he officially presented her with a certificate of honorary Canadian citizenship, which was granted by the House of Commons in 2007.
Suu Kyi, 66, is among only five people to be granted honourary Canadian citizenship. Others include Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama.
"She's an incredibly intelligent woman. You really get the sense that you are in the presence of greatness," Baird said.
The outspoken freedom fighter -- who has spent 15 of the last 23 years under house arrest -- told Baird that the South Asian country's upcoming election is threatened by false voter lists.
"We have just discovered there are many, many irregularities on the voters' lists and we have applied to the election commission to do something about this," Suu Kyi told reporters, standing next to Baird on her back porch of her Yangon home. "A lot of dead people seem to be prepared to vote on the first of April. We can't have that, can we? And other things like that."
Baird, who met with Suu Kyi for about an hour, said he saw the problem as very serious.
"I was very concerned to learn about a good number of irregularities, which the party is bringing forward to the government, to the election commission officials," he said. "We look forward to seeing the results of that."
Suu Kyi is running as part of an upcoming byelection in Myanmar that will be an early test of the country's civilian government, made up largely of retired military officials. The group began leading the country last year after decades of harsh military control, during which thousands of dissenters were imprisoned, including Suu Kyi.
Before the meeting with Suu Kyi, Baird visited with Myanmar's Foreign Affairs Minister Wunna Maung Lwin. Also Thursday, he met with President Thein Sein at the country's elaborate presidential palace in the capital, Naypyitaw.
He said the officials seemed to strongly favour a free and democratic election process, but that "the true test will be in the weeks and months that follow."
Suu Kyi's political party, the National League for Democracy, has had seemingly widespread support in the country for decades. It won a national election in 1990 by a significant margin but was prevented from forming a government by the military.
Life has changed quickly for Myanmar's 60 million people since the junta stepped down last year. The government has released hundreds of political prisoners, the media has been given expanded freedom and Suu Kyi is now able to speak publicly; her messages finally reported by the media.
But much is left to be done to move the country to true democracy, she said, urging the rest of the world to keep close tabs on Myanmar's government.
"We do not yet have complete freedom of information, we do not have complete freedom of communication, but this is what we have to work towards," she said Thursday, adding her party "would complain loud and long, and we'll make sure that whatever has gone wrong is put right at some time or the other."
With files from The Canadian Press