Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, has been under military rule since the early 1960s.
 
The US-based Campaign for Burma welcomed the award, saying Aung San Suu Kyi appears to be the first person given the medal while incarcerated.

 

Aung San Suu Kyi was awarded the
Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 [AFP]
"The Burmese military generals have tried to isolate Aung San Suu Kyi from her own people and from the international community by keeping her under house arrest for over 12 years," said Aung Din, co-founder of the group.

 

"She richly deserves this award and the Burmese people are so proud that one of our own has been honoured in this way."

 

It is not yet clear when or how the medal will be awarded.

 

More than 300 individuals or groups have been awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, including Tony Blair, the former British prime minister, Pope John Paul II, Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama, US inventor Thomas Edison, and black civil rights campaigner Rosa Parks.

 

The medal was first awarded to the first president of the United States, George Washington.

 

The decision to award Aung San Suu Kyi the medal comes amid growing impatience in the US towards Myanmar's military rulers.

 

Crackdown

 

Aung San Suu Kyi, centre, was seen briefly
during last September's protests [Reuters]
Last September the military launched a bloody crackdown on protests triggered by a sudden hike in the price of fuel and other essentials.

 

Human rights groups say dozens, possibly hundreds of people were killed and many more remain in detention or unaccounted for.

 

Aung San Suu Kyi made a brief and rare public appearance days before the crackdown, appearing at the gates of her home to pray with monks leading a protest march through the streets of Yangon.

 

Next month Myanmar is due to hold a referendum on a new constitution that the military says marks a key stage in what its calls a "road map to democracy", eventually leading to elections in 2010.

 

Under the new charter, candidates who have been married to foreigners will be barred from standing for office, ruling out Aung San Suu Kyi.

 

Her husband, British academic Michael Aris, died of cancer in 1999.