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Baird hears about election 'irregularities' in Burma First Posted: 03/ 8/2012 11:27 am Updated: 03/ 8/2012 11:41 am Foreign Affairs Minister John

Baird heard first-hand Thursday about "irregularit ies" in the run-up to next month's elections in Burma and promised Canada will b e watching carefully.

Meeting with pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, Baird said he would be "very thrilled to begin to lift the Canadian sanctions against the current government here, but obviously we want to watch closely the next 3½ weeks of the campaign."

Suu Kyi told Baird in their meeting about the irregularities ahead of the April 1 election in Burma, also known as Myanmar.

"We have just discovered there are many, many irregularities on the voters' list s, and we have applied to the election commission to do something about this," s he said, standing next to Baird on her back porch in Rangoon. "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 he was concerned to learn about the irregularities, which have been report ed to the government and to election commission officials. "We look forward to seeing the results of that," he said. Suu Kyi promised her party "would complain loud and long, and we'll make sure th at whatever has gone wrong is put right at some time or the other. We don't want to condemn irregularities outright if they can be remedied in some way." Earlier, Baird presented the Nobel laureate Suu Kyi with a certificate of honora ry Canadian citizenship. He visited her at the home in Rangoon where she has ser ved 15 of the last 23 years under house arrest. 'Making history' Baird kicked off his visit earlier in the day with a meeting with Burma Presiden t Thein Sein at his presidential palace, an opulent structure in the country's n ew and austere capital of Naypyitaw."In a way, he's making history," the CBC's A drienne Arsenault reported from Rangoon. "He's the first Canadian foreign affair s minister to ever set foot on this soil. In terms of global politicians, he joi ns a bit of a parade of people who have come through here over the last several months as this country has ⠦ started to change." Foreign politicians are coming to Burma to get a measure of the reforms and to s ize up the people behind them, Arsenault said. "Is this reform for real, or refo rm for the sake of merely attracting the attention of the world's investment?" Suu Kyi is an international symbol of elegant, peaceful defiance in a country th at has endured decades of oppressive military rule. She's running in a significant byelection next month that the world sees as cruc ial test of Burma's new civilian leadership. Her National League for Democracy won a landslide electoral victory in 1990 but was barred by the military from forming a government. 'Impressive progress' "We're making clear that we've noted impressive progress to date and reinforcing that the April elections are an important milestone," Baird said. Baird arrived Thursday accompanied by his chief spokesman and Canada's chargé d'aff airs to Thailand.

The military has ruled Burma with an iron fist, jailing thousands of critics â inclu ding Suu Kyi, who spent most 15 of the last 23 years under house arrest. Suu Kyi, 66, is now the leader of the opposition, and her party is actively camp aigning. She is one of only five people â and the first woman â to ever be granted hono ary Canadian citizenship. Baird's presentation to Suu Kyi coincides with Interna tional Women's Day. Burma's military junta stepped down last year and a new military-backed civilian government, dominated by a clique of retired army officers, embarked on a serie s of democratic reforms. Suu Kyi was also given more freedom and is now campaigning in a round of byelect ions to be held on April 1 â a ballot that the world views as a key test for Burma's new civilian leadership. Prisoners released Over the past year, the pace of change has been dizzying at times in the resourc e-rich, but somewhat backward, South Asian nation of 60 million people. The government has released hundreds of political prisoners, and the media has b een given more freedoms. Suu Kyi's image is ubiquitous, and her every word is no w reported. She attracts huge crowds at rallies. Canada has had varying levels of sanctions against Burma since 1988. It opened a strategic engagement with the country last summer, but continues to maintain a strict regime of sanctions that were toughened considerably in 2007. Baird will not be announcing any easing of those sanctions on this trip, as some other countries have done, including the United States. Baird's itinerary mirrors that of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who v isited the country in December â the first such high-profile visit by an American of ficial in more than half a century, although one of several by Western foreign m inisters in the last year.