Sunday, June 17, 2012

Suu Kyi to give Nobel Peace speech 21 years later

Cathal Mcnaughton / Reuters

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi signs a book at the Nobel Institute after a meeting with the Norwegian Nobel Committee in Oslo on Saturday.

By news services

OSLO, Norway -- It's been 21 years, and Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is about to give her Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech.

The 66-year-old champion of democracy is being feted this month in European capitals after spending most of the past two decades kept under house arrest by Myanmar's military-backed dictatorship.

Norwegian government leaders said they have eagerly awaited Saturday's speech at Oslo City Hall since Suu Kyi won the world's highest diplomatic honor in 1991. But Suu Kyi said she never doubted that she would travel one day to Oslo to give her honorific lecture.

Large crowds welcome Suu Kyi as she travels Thailand during world tour

"Yes of course, I always believed that. That's why I have always said that the first time I traveled abroad I would come to Norway," she said in answer to a reporter's question. "I never doubted that. Did you?"

Despite being under house arrest at the time, Suu Kyi did receive the actual prize in 1991 and used its cash reward to create scholarship programs for Burmese youth. Her two British-based teenage sons accepted the prize on her behalf in Oslo that year.

She arrived Friday in Norway from Switzerland, her first stop on a planned two-week tour of Europe also taking in Ireland, Britain and France. The journey is her first in Europe since 1988, the year she left her husband and two young sons in England to visit her ill mother back home -- and became the focal point for the country's nascent democracy movement.

The national hero has called for national reconciliation but skirted the issue of Myanmar's recent ethnic violence, which has threatened to derail its transformation from dictatorship.

Before accepting the prize, a tired-looking, rarely smiling Suu Kyi, who still appeared to be recovering from falling ill on Thursday.

"We are not at the end of the road, by no means, we are just starting out," she said on Friday.?

On her first visit to Europe in nearly a quarter of a century, she both warned that her country's political transformation was not irreversible and the military had to give up its excessive powers and?rejected a suggestion that her aim was to dismantle the military.?

"I have never thought that I was doing anything against the military, I've always said I want the military, the army to be an honorable, professional army that is respected by the people," Suu Kyi said at a press conference with Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg on Friday.

Myanmar refugees flee in rickety boats after sectarian clashes

"I fight against what is dangerous for the democratic process and the military having the kind of powers that they shouldn't have certainly endangers the democratic process," said Suu Kyi, daughter of General Aung San, Myanmar's independence hero, who was assassinated in 1947.

Suu Kyi, who spent a total of 15 years under house arrest between 1989 and her release in late 2010, has been negotiating a fragile transition with President Thein Sein and entered parliament in a special by-election in April.

For the first time in nearly a quarter century, Myanmar's opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, has left her country for a journey overseas, first to Bangkok and later to Europe. NBC's Ian Williams reports.

Suu Kyi's 17-day European trip has been clouded by sectarian violence between Rakhine Buddhists and stateless Muslim Rohingyas, testing Myanmar's 15-month-old quasi-civilian government.

On Friday, a fragile peace held in the wake of days of that has stoked nationalist fervor and displaced 30,000 people and killed 29 by government accounts.

Suu Kyi did not address the issue, except to say: "We want to work for national reconciliation and we are not going to do anything that harms that."

The government has made peace and unity among Myanmar's many ethnic groups its mantra and has struck ceasefire deals with minority Karen, Shan, Mon and Chin rebels, among others, after decades of hostilities.

But there is entrenched, long-standing animosity between Rakhine Buddhists and around 800,000 Muslim Rohingyas, who mostly live in abject conditions and who still do not possess citizenship.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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