Suu Kyi Plans US Trip in September

By Associated Press 18 July 2012

NAYPYIDAW—Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says she will accept an award in the United States in September, setting up a new round of international accolades for the Nobel Peace laureate and former political prisoner who was unable to leave her home country for more than two decades.

Suu Kyi was greeted enthusiastically by world leaders and human rights activists during her recent trips to Thailand and Europe, and the US trip announced on Tuesday likely will garner the same level of attention as she re-emerges on the world stage.

Also Tuesday, Suu Kyi received a poignant reminder of a meeting that can never be—a dried yellow rose presented on behalf of Czech President Vaclav Havel, who died last year. The tenacious fighter for democracy had communicated with Suu Kyi, inspired her and longed to meet her.

The Atlantic Council think tank said Suu Kyi will be presented its Global Citizen Award recognizing “visionary global leaders” on Sept. 21 in New York.

Suu Kyi confirmed her trip to The Associated Press but gave no other details on her itinerary. The US State Department said Suu Kyi would be invited for meetings with the US government during her visit, but it had no details.

“We look forward to an appropriate date welcoming Aung San Suu Kyi here to the State Department and her having bilateral meetings here in the US,” department spokesman Patrick Ventrell told reporters.

Suu Kyi, elected in April to Burma’s Parliament, is sure to be feted in the United States for her long struggle against military rule in her homeland and for championing democracy. She is revered by Republicans and Democrats, has been a guiding force in US policy towards Burma over the past two decades, and has been supportive of the Obama administration’s engagement of the reformist President Thein Sein.

The US last week suspended investment sanctions that had been in force against Burma for 15 years. Suu Kyi cautiously supported that move, but it did expose a rare difference between her views and those of the US government, which decided to allow US companies to invest with Burma’s opaque state oil and gas enterprise. Last month, Suu Kyi opposed foreign companies working with that sector because of its lack of transparency.

Suu Kyi spoke by phone on Monday to Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell, a prominent voice in Congress on Myanmar issues. McConnell’s office said they discussed US sanctions legislation.

The date of the award presentation is near the Sept. 18 opening of the UN General Assembly session in New York, an event often well-attended by prominent international leaders and activists. Before her marriage in the early 1970s, Suu Kyi lived in New York for a couple of years and worked at the United Nations.

The longtime leader of Burma’s pro-democracy movement spent most of the last 20 years under house arrest. Even when she was free, she never left her home country because she feared military rulers would not let her return. She was freed from her final house arrest in late 2010, made her first trip out of Burma to Thailand in late May of this year and a few weeks later traveled to Europe, where she was finally able to accept the Nobel Peace Prize she won in 1991.

On Tuesday night in Naypyidaw, Burma’s capital, Suu Kyi dined with the Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, who presented her with Havel’s rose, embedded in a glass case.

Havel, a Nobel Peace laureate who nominated Suu Kyi for the prize, died in December. Burmese democracy activists laid the rose on his coffin, and a Czech artist preserved it.

Jiri Sitler, a friend of Havel and former Czech ambassador to Myanmar in Schwarzenberg’s delegation, explained to The Associated Press the idea behind the unusual gift.

He said that in 2005, Havel sent Suu Kyi—then under house arrest—birthday greetings in a note in which he said he wanted to meet her and how happy he would be if he could personally give her a rose.

They never met in person, communicating only by phone and mail. She once wrote in her Japan’s Mainichi newspaper column that, “It was [Havel’s] vigorous and warm personality and his total commitment to the support of movements for democracy and human rights the world over that made his friendship so real and vibrant and made me feel we were linked to one another by close ties of understanding.”

Suu Kyi, wearing a red traditional jacket and with white roses in her hair, shook hands with Schwarzenberg and his delegation as she accepted the gift. She spoke about the special relationship between Havel’s country and hers, and especially of the support Havel had given Burma’s democracy movement.

“I am very sad that I never had the opportunity to meet him but I feel very close because his thoughts and his writings guided me during the years of struggle,” Suu Kyi said.