Aung San Suu Kyi launches Europe visit

Myanmar democracy icon who spent most of past 21 years under house arrest to formally accept her 1991 Nobel Prize.

For years, Suu Kyi declined offers to leave the country for fear the ruling generals would not let her return [AFP]

Opposition politician and former political prisoner Aung San Suu Kyi has arrived in Geneva on her first trip to Europe since 1988 to formally accept the Nobel prize that thrust her into the global limelight two decades ago.

From Switzerland Suu Kyi, who was under house arrest when she was awarded the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize, will travel to Norway, Ireland, Britain and France.

“I would like to do my best for the interests of the people,” Suu Kyi said before her plane left Yangon airport on Wednesday.

For years, Suu Kyi declined offers to leave the country, even to see her sons or British husband before his death from cancer in 1999, for fear the ruling generals would not let her return.

As well as the Nobel speech, she is due to speak at an International Labour Organization conference, address Britain’s parliament and receive an Amnesty International human rights award in Dublin from rock star Bono.

Her visit will mark a new milestone in the political changes that have swept through the country, formerly known as Burma since decades of outright military rule ended last year, bringing to power a new quasi-civilian government.

President Thein Sein is credited for a series of dramatic reforms including releasing hundreds of political prisoners, signing peace pacts with armed rebel groups and welcoming Suu Kyi’s party back into mainstream politics.

Suu Kyi, the daughter of Myanmar’s independence hero General Aung San, won her first seat in parliament in April, prompting Western nations to start rolling back sanctions.

Global stage

Suu Kyi’s lecture on June 16 in Oslo to accept the Nobel Prize, which thrust her onto the global stage and spurred decades of support for her party’s democratic struggle against authoritarian rule, will be hugely symbolic.

Despite the ceremony, Suu Kyi may inject a note of caution into her June 16 Nobel speech. Earlier this month, on her first overseas trip in more than two decades, she warned world business leaders at a meeting in Bangkok against “reckless optimism” over the democratic reforms.

The veteran activist is travelling with her personal assistant, her security chief, the dissident rapper-turned-politician Zayar Thaw and a youth member from her National League for Democracy party, Nay Chin Win.

Suu Kyi will also join a family reunion in Britain, according to her party, which declined to say whether that will include seeing both her sons, Kim and Alexander Aris, as well as her grandchildren.

While Kim has visited his mother in Myanmar since her release, Alexander has not and he now lives in the United States. Suu Kyi is also expected to spend her 67th birthday on June 19 somewhere in Britain.

Her European trip comes amid a surge in sectarian violence in Myanmar’s western Rakhine state, where a wave of rioting and arson is posing a major test for the government.

Source: AFP