Canada names its first full-time envoy to Myanmar

OTTAWA — The Globe and Mail

Myanmar's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi accepts the award of an honorary Canadian citizenship from Foreign Minister John Baird, after their meeting at Suu Kyi's home in Rangoon on March 8, 2012. Canada has since named its full-time ambassador to Myanmar, Mark McDowell. (Soe Zeya Tun/Soe Zeya Tun/Reuters)

Canada’s first full-time ambassador to Myanmar will be long-time diplomat and Asia specialist Mark McDowell, the Department of Foreign Affairs confirmed on Friday.

Mr. McDowell, 50, currently works at Canada’s embassy in Beijing, where he is counsellor and head of the public diplomacy section. He will take the helm of Canada’s new embassy in Rangoon, which is expected to open officially this spring.

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Ties between Canada and Myanmar, previously known as Burma, began to warm after President Thein Sein came to power in November, 2011. Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird visited Myanmar last March, and when Trade Minister Ed Fast visited last September, he announced Canada would establish a permanent trade presence in the Canadian embassy.

After decades of military dictatorship, Myanmar’s government is slowly loosening its control over the country and moving closer to a partial democracy – though recent outbreaks of violence have marred that progress. Thousands of political prisoners have been released and the government has partially liberalized the economy.

“Canada welcomes the positive developments that have occurred in Burma over the past two years and encourages the country’s government to pursue further reforms,” a statement from Foreign Affairs said. “Canada urges Burmese authorities to address violence between ethnic and religious communities through peaceful means while protecting the rights and safety of all residents.”

Mr. McDowell joined the Department of Foreign Affairs – then known as the department of external affairs and international trade – in 1994, and has worked in New York, Taipei, Bangkok and Beijing. He researched Myanmar as a fellow at Harvard before moving to Beijing in 2010 to work at Canada’s embassy in China, according to biographical information from Foreign Affairs.