Nobel Prize-winning Myanmar opposition leader travels to U.S.

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, July 17, 2012 11:08 EDT
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Myanmar's Nobel Prize-winning opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, pictured on July 11, will travel to the United States in September on her first visit since spending years under house arrest, a think-tank said Tuesday
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Myanmar’s Nobel Prize-winning opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi will travel to the United States in September on her first visit since spending years under house arrest, a think-tank said Tuesday.

Suu Kyi, who was elected to parliament this year in a dramatic sign of Myanmar’s reforms, has indicated that she will attend a dinner in New York on September 21 to accept an award from the Atlantic Council, said Taleen Ananian, a spokeswoman for the think-tank.

It would be the 67-year-old Suu Kyi’s first visit to the United States since the 1980s. She spent most of the past two decades under house arrest after a military junta refused to accept her party’s victory in 1990 elections.

Suu Kyi did not travel abroad again until May this year, when she visited Thailand. Last month, she made an extensive tour of Europe, where she was feted in major capitals and admitted that she felt exhausted.

State Department officials said that they had no announcement to make on Suu Kyi’s travels, but it would be highly unlikely that she would visit the United States without meeting her supporters in President Barack Obama’s administration and Congress.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton invited Suu Kyi to visit when the top US diplomat paid a landmark visit to Myanmar, also known as Burma, in December.

The Atlantic Council dinner takes place in New York at the same time as the United Nations General Assembly, which each year brings leaders from across the world to the global body’s headquarters in Manhattan.

The Atlantic Council said it would present its “Global Citizen” awards to Suu Kyi along with Japan’s Sadako Ogata, a former UN high commissioner for refugees.

“By honoring two such brave women — one of the most well-known political prisoners of our times and a courageous campaigner for human rights from Bosnia to Rwanda — we help define the notion of global citizenship even as we honor it,” Atlantic Council president and CEO Frederick Kempe said in a statement.

The think-tank will also present awards to Henry Kissinger, the 89-year-old former secretary of state and apostle of realpolitik, and music legend and humanitarian Quincy Jones.

Since taking office last year, Myanmar’s President Thein Sein has surprised even many cynics by undertaking reforms, including reaching out to Suu Kyi and freeing political prisoners.

The reforms came after Obama reached out to Myanmar by initiating talks and offering an easing of sanctions in return for movement toward democracy.

Obama had tied his policy closely to Suu Kyi, who enjoys wide respect across the US political spectrum. But Obama last week made a rare break with Suu Kyi by opening Myanmar to US investment — including in the oil and gas sector.

Suu Kyi had urged foreign companies to hold back on partnering with the Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise until it undertakes reforms. Rights groups say that Myanmar’s energy sector funds the powerful military and fuels abuses, including forced labor by villagers.

Suu Kyi played down the decision after it was announced, telling AFP that the move was “nothing significant” but repeating her call for transparency by foreign firms.

The US Senate is debating an annual extension of longstanding sanctions on Myanmar, including a ban on all imports of gems and other goods seen as benefiting the military.

Suu Kyi spoke about the legislation by telephone with Senator Mitch McConnell, the top Republican in the chamber and longtime critic of human rights abuses in Myanmar, said Ohn Kyaing, a lawmaker in Myanmar and spokesman for Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy.

Agence France-Presse
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