Foreign Affairs minister John Baird has announced Canada will be opening an embassy in the Southeast Asian nation of Myanmar, also known as Burma.
The move comes in the wake of significant democratic reforms that have seen the ruling military junta loosen its decades-long control of the country – though Baird acknowledged there is still work to be done.
“Although the Burmese government has taken positive steps to improve human rights and democracy, we continue to urge more progress on reforms,” he told reporters by phone from Thailand on Friday.
Myanmar’s military junta had ruled with an iron fist for decades, prompting Western nations to impose sanctions in an effort to isolate it on the world stage.
But changes at the top began in 2010, including the arrival of a new president, followed by limited parliamentary elections and the release of opposition leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi from decades of house arrest.
Canada suspended its sanctions against Myanmar in April, which can be reimposed at any time if the situation changes. Baird, who is in the midst of a two-week swing through Asia, made no mention of the sanctions Friday.
Despite the progress that has been made, there have been some recent hiccups.
Reuters reported Friday that 10 staff members from the United Nations and NGOs working in Burma were arrested, with some of them charged.
This comes a week after 20 student leaders were arrested as they prepared to commemorate the 50th anniversary of a military attack on a university. They were later freed.
There have also been reports of ethnic cleansing along Myanmar’s border with Bangladesh, where Muslims are being targeted and killed.