Aung San Suu Kyi worried about violence in Myanmar

AP News
Posted: Oct 03, 2011 12:13 PM
Aung San Suu Kyi worried about violence in Myanmar

Recent violence in Myanmar shows how difficult it will be to achieve unity and democracy in the southeast Asian country, democracy campaigner Aung San Suu Kyi said Monday.

Suu Kyi used a video link to take questions from a small group at the University of Johannesburg in South Africa, where her longtime supporters include fellow Nobel peace laureates Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu.

"I think we should all be concerned about hostilities breaking out all over the country," she said, saying such violence underlines the challenge of bringing Myanmar's many ethnic groups together.

But "we do intend to get to the position where we are a true union of hearts and minds," she said.

Suu Kyi has made a few such virtual appearances to audiences in Hong Kong and the United States since Myanmar's military leaders freed her from house arrest almost a year ago. She has not been expressly banned from foreign travel. But Sein Win, an overseas opposition leader and Suu Kyi's cousin, said she might not be allowed to return if she does venture abroad.

Sein Win, who was in South Africa from his Rockville, Maryland home in exile to accept an honorary degree from the University of Johannesburg on Suu Kyi's behalf on Tuesday, said concern about what might happen if she were to leave shows how uncertain the situation is in his homeland. He said he would not return until democracy and rule of law are guaranteed in Myanmar. He also said his cousin, who he had not seen since 1989, looked "spiritually" strong in the video link.

Suu Kyi said she was inspired by South Africa's defeat of apartheid.

"We are determined to make a success of our struggle for democracy," she said. "We are not just going to sit. We are going to move to get to where we want to go."

In November, Suu Kyi's party boycotted Myanmar's first elections in 20 years, saying the vote was undemocratic. The new government is nominally civilian but remains dominated by the military, which has ruled since 1962.

Despite the elections, violence continues in parts of Myanmar. Rights groups and The Associated Press have interviewed victims who say the army is subjecting citizens to forced relocation, forced labor, gang-rape and extra-judicial killings. Amnesty International says troops have used civilians as human shields and minesweepers. Western nations are urging Myanmar to free its more than 2,000 political prisoners and reconcile with Suu Kyi.

Speaking Monday, Suu Kyi repeatedly called on the international community to closely follow events in Myanmar, and to criticize and reward as warranted. She called on South Africa to display more leadership, saying its government had not always been as forthright in its support as had individuals like Mandela and Tutu.

Those who had achieved freedom should "remember those who are still struggling to obtain theirs," she said.

In awarding her the Peace Prize in 1991, the Nobel committee called Suu Kyi's struggle "one of the most extraordinary examples of civil courage in Asia in recent decades."

Retired Archbishop Tutu, who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 for his nonviolent campaign against white racist rule in South Africa, has called Suu Kyi "a global symbol of moral courage." Mandela, South Africa's first black president, made her an honorary Elder when he formed the group of global statesmen in 2007. Mandela shared the 1993 Nobel with President F.W. de Klerk for their work in negotiating an end to apartheid.

Mandela's Elders, who champion peace and human rights around the world, have kept an empty chair representing Suu Kyi and Myanmar's thousands of political prisoners at their meetings.

Suu Kyi was released Nov. 13 after more than seven years under house arrest. She was first arrested in 1989 and at the time of her release had been detained for 15 of the past 21 years.

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Suu Kyi was largely raised outside Myanmar, also known as Burma, and initially settled with her husband and sons in England. In 1988, she returned home to care for her ailing mother as mass demonstrations were breaking out against military rule. As the daughter of Aung San, the country's martyred founding father, she was thrust into a leadership role.

She led her party, the National League for Democracy, to victory in 1990 elections, but the junta refused to recognize the results. Suu Kyi's party said last year's vote, in which it refused to participate, was held under unfair and undemocratic conditions.

International human rights groups are calling for a U.N.-led international commission of inquiry into allegations of war crimes in Myanmar, where the military crushed mass protests for democracy led by Buddhist monks in September 2007. Several dozen people were believed killed and many more jailed.

Another Nobel peace laureate, Tibetan spiritual and political leader the Dalai Lama, has been invited to South Africa this week to help celebrate Tutu's 80th birthday on Friday.

Sonam Tenzing, the Dalai Lama's official representative in South Africa, said Monday he still had no word on whether South Africa would grant him a visa. South African officials have denied China, a major trading partner, is blocking the visit, saying only that the Dalai Lama's visa application is taking time to process.

The Nobel committee recognized the Dalai Lama in 1989 for his peaceful efforts to "preserve the historical and cultural heritage of his people." China accuses him of being a separatist. The Dalai Lama insists he is only seeking increased autonomy for Tibet, the homeland from which he has been exiled since 1959.


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