Suu Kyi: Myanmar faces difficult road ahead

Agence France-Presse
'We're certainly not at the end of the road. By no means. We are just starting out.'

OSLO, Norway – Myanmar democracy champion Aung San Suu Kyi on Friday, June 15, said her country was at the start of the road to reconciliation as she arrived in Norway to finally give her Nobel Peace Prize speech.

After years of house arrest and isolation, Suu Kyi arrived to a rapturous welcome on a Europe tour that follows sweeping change in her homeland, where a former military junta has promised to follow a path to democracy.

On Saturday she was due to finally deliver her Nobel lecture at Oslo City Hall, more than two decades after winning the prize for her dogged campaign to free her people, which has seen her separated from her family since 1988.

When she arrived in Oslo, she was greeted with flowers and music by hundreds of Burmese, many with her party’s Fighting Peacock flag painted on their faces, and later treated to a dinner by the country’s political and royal leaders.

“I thank the people of Norway and all others who have helped us along this very difficult path,” said Suu Kyi, wearing a trademark white flower in her hair, in a press conference with Norway’s Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg.

“We’re certainly not at the end of the road. By no means. We are just starting out,” she said.

“And this road is not going to be a straightforward, smooth one. There are going to be many twists and turns and there’ll be obstacles. But we’ll have to negotiate these in the spirit of national reconciliation.”

Champion of democracy

There was concern over the punishing schedule of Suu Kyi’s trip, which will also take her to Britain, Ireland and France, after the activist, who turns 67 next week, cancelled some events in Switzerland, citing exhaustion.

Asked by the media whether she had ever dreamt of coming to Norway, she said: “Yes, of course! I’ve always believed that… I’ve never doubted that.”

She said she was on a journey of “rediscovery and discovery, seeing the world with new eyes”.

Suu Kyi won the Nobel prize in 1991 but was unable to accept it in person, fearing that the regime would bar her from returning to her country.

Her husband Michael Aris and their two sons, Kim and Alexander, accepted the award on her behalf. When her husband died of cancer in 1999, Suu Kyi could not be by his side, for the same reason.

It is Suu Kyi’s personal courage that has led admirers to liken her to history’s great human rights defenders, from Mahatma Gandhi to Nelson Mandela.

Stoltenberg told her: “You’ve been a champion for democracy, you have been a champion for your people, and you have dedicated your life to the struggle for democracy in your country, and you are an inspiration for all of us.”

He said “the new political reality in Myanmar is remarkable,” reflecting on a year in which Myanmar’s President Thein Sein has freed political prisoners and welcomed Suu Kyi’s party back into mainstream politics.

“We have witnessed great changes in less than a year,” the premier said. “Your presence here in Oslo is proof that your long fight for democracy and justice for your people is really paying off.”

But he also warned: “A great deal remains be done… We need to be realistic. This process is not irreversible. There will be setbacks, there will be disappointments.”

Burma opening up

Suu Kyi’s trip has been clouded by ethnic strife at home, where regional clashes between Buddhists and Muslim Rohingya have claimed dozens of lives and displaced more than 30,000 people.

Speaking earlier in Switzerland, the Oxford-educated daughter of the country’s independence hero stressed “the need for rule of law,” saying that without it “such communal strife will only continue.”

Myanmar’s crumbling economy lags far behind those of its dynamic Asian neighbors, although eased Western sanctions have sparked a business bonanza, with investors starting to flock to the resource-rich country.

Suu Kyi said that “human-rights friendly, democracy-friendly investment is what we’re looking for,” adding that it should benefit the private sector “rather than strengthen the hand of the government over the economy”.

“Burma has been a command economy for far too long and we never prospered along the road… Now that we have the opportunity, we want to make sure that we open up in the right way.”

Asked whether ties with Myanmar’s leaders might be strained by her Europe trip, she said, “I do not see why anyone should object to my travelling abroad.”

“Certainly I don’t think they have anything to fear from the interest that other countries show in my party and myself, because we want to work for national reconciliation.” – Agence France-Presse