PARIS — Burma’s opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi said Tuesday that she holds no grudges against the military regime that kept her under house arrest for some 15 years and considers them people to work with toward reform.
Her focus is on practical matters, Suu Kyi said at a news conference, not “abstract ideas of justice.”
Suu Kyi met with the press after a meeting with President Francois Hollande on the first day of her four-day visit to France to close out a European tour that has taken her to Switzerland, Norway, Ireland and Britain. She and the French president were having dinner Tuesday night.
The Nobel Peace Prize winner has been a world symbol of courage and hope for facing down Burma’s military regime, which ruled for 49 years until last year. She is now helping the country usher in what many hope is a transition to democracy. And pragmatism seems to be her watchword.
“I certainly do not bear any grudges against the military regime,” she said. “I never think of them as those people who placed me under house arrest for so many years. This is not the way we bring about national reconciliation.
“I think of them as people with whom I would like to work in order to bring reform to our country,” she added.
Hollande, at her side, said that France intends to support all those involved in the democratic transition, and “not consider it a tranquil process,” so that Burma achieves a “full and complete democracy.”
He cautioned that France will keep a vigilant eye on financial transactions and industrial projects that a more open Burma will likely attract.
It was unclear whether he was making reference to the French oil giant Total which has been present in Burma for decades under military rule there, and became the object of criticism.
Suu Kyi said she wants “democracy-friendly, human rights-friendly” investments that protect the environment of her country, which she refers to by its colonial name, Burma. However, she added, “I do not want to be shackled by the past.”
She said that “we must go forward to the future,” and that Total had made compensations to people displaced by a gas pipeline. In response to a question, she said that investment in technology would be welcome from France and others.
“We would like to give everybody an opportunity to engage in business that actually strengthens the process of democratization,” she added.
Suu Kyi, who turned 67 this month during her trip, is putting the accent on youth during her visit to France and, during her news conference the word “future” constantly found its way into her remarks. Among her activities in France is a conference-debate on Thursday with some 1,400 students at the Sorbonne University. Education is vital so that the new generation can carry the ball, and anchor the hoped for democracy once people like herself retreat from the foreground.
Youth make up 32 percent of Burma’s population and play an important role in Suu Kyi’s party, which was the big winner in partial parliamentary elections in April.
On Wednesday, Suy Kyi was meeting with Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, and planting a “tree of liberty” in the ministry garden.
She has been collecting honors during her travels that were conferred on her many years ago while trapped at home, from her Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo to her honorary degree from Oxford which she once attended.
In Paris, she will pick up an award on Wednesday granted in 2004 making her an honorary citizen of the city of Paris.
On her European travels, Suu Kyi has been accorded the attention of a diva. Asked at the news conference if she sees herself as the icon she embodies for many in the world, she scoffed, calling it unsettling, even if she understands the human need to put a face on everything.
“I represent the human face of the movement for democracy in Burma and I think that is where it should remain,” she said. “I’m always very disturbed when people speak of me as an icon. Icons just seem to sit there doing nothing at all — And I work very, very hard, I assure you.”