Former first lady Laura Bush, a longtime advocate for free elections in Myanmar, spoke for the first time Friday with the isolated Asian country's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who was released last month after more than seven years of house arrest.
Bush told The Associated Press that "it was thrilling" to finally get to speak to Suu Kyi by phone.
"I was especially happy to hear how strong her voice was and how enthusiastic," Bush said.
Suu Kyi, who won the 1991 Nobel Peace prize for her nonviolent struggle for democracy, was first arrested by Myanmar's military junta in 1989 and has spent 15 of the past 21 years in detention.
Bush, the wife of former President George W. Bush, has advocated for free elections in Myanmar, also known as Burma, and has spoken out many times about Suu Kyi's plight, raising the issue at United Nations meetings and with U.S. senators.
Bush said Suu Kyi told her that during her house arrest, she listened to the Voice of America on the radio and was aware of how much support she had around the world. She said she also knew of a 2008 visit Bush and her daughter, Barbara, made to a refugee camp in Thailand for political refugees from Myanmar.
"She was very forthcoming but we both assumed the call was bugged. She was circumspect and so was I," Bush said.
Suu Kyi's release last month came a week after Myanmar's first election in 20 years, which was widely seen as a sham. The 1990 election was won in a landslide by Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party, but the military refused to hand over power and instead clamped down on its opponents.
Bush said that it appears that the government is allowing Suu Kyi to conduct the meetings and phone calls she wants.
"I hope I'll have the chance to speak with her again," Bush said. "I hope that someday we'll have the chance to meet face to face."
The former first lady said she also told Suu Kyi about an effort by the George W. Bush Presidential Center to be a repository for the papers and oral histories of political dissidents struggling to spread democracy. Bush said Suu Kyi was receptive to the idea of one day being interviewed for the project.
The center, which will be made up of a presidential library, museum and policy institute, is set to open in February 2013 on the campus of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, the city George and Laura Bush moved to after he left office in 2009.
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