The US Congress has honoured Myanmar’s opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi with the highest civilian award as she continues her 17-day visit that will see her hold a private meeting with President Barack Obama.
The golden award was conferred on Wednesday on the pro-democracy campaigner who spent 15 years under house arrest in recognition for her tireless campaign to restore good governance in the Southeast Asian nation.
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But Washington was careful to balance praise for the Nobel laureate, removing Myanmar’s reformist president, Thein Sein, who is on a simultaneous visit, from a list of individuals who are barred from doing business or owning property in the US.
A US official said Obama would hold a private meeting with Suu Kyi at the White House on Wednesday, his first with Myanmar’s best known politician.
The private session would be closed to the press, said the official.
Al Jazeera’s Rosiland Jordan, reporting from Washington, said the ceremony had been several years in the making as Suu Kyi got the honour when she was under house arrest.
“It is featuring a lot of pomp and circumstance, a full military colour guard, military musicians performing, and many invited guests, including many from the Myanmar community that has settled in the US,” she said.
“What would be more interesting is next week when she visits the state if Indiana, which has the largest expatriate community of people from Myanmar or Burma.”
Freed in 2010, Suu Kyi, a Nobel peace laureate like Obama, received a rapturous welcome on her first visit to Washington since her release.
Suu Kyi thanked the United States on Tuesday for its support but said reforms must proceed without the pressure of sanctions and insisted improved relations with Washington would not pose a threat to Myanmar’s Chinese ties.
“In the end, we have to build our own democracy,” she said in a speech in which she appeared careful not to annoy leaders back home who have initiated reforms.
She called for a relaxation of US sanctions on the country.
“I do not think that we need to cling onto sanctions unnecessarily because I want our people to be responsible for their own destiny and not to depend too much on external props,” Suu Kyi said in a speech at the Asia Society
Now a member of parliament, Suu Kyi said she believes Thein Sein is “keen” on change but said the judiciary, and
not the executive, was the “weakest arm” of the reform.
“We have passed a first hurdle, but there are many more hurdles to cross,” she said.
Speaking about the US interests in Myanmar, Al Jazeera’s Jordan said the US was very concerned about China’s growth as an economic power and a military power around the world.
“An what better place to try to check Beijing’s power by trying to establish a full network of allies in the Asia-Pacific region.”