Suu Kyi Asks Burma Exiles to Unite
THE IRRAWADDY and ASSOCIATED PRESS| June 18, 2012 |
OSLO, Norway—Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi paid a jubilant visit to the Norwegian city of Bergen on Sunday, where she urged refugees from her ethnically divided homeland to build harmony and support ceasefires.
Suu Kyi flew from Oslo to the fjord-studded west coast a day after delivering her acceptance speech for the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize. As in Oslo, thousands filled a central Bergen Square to hear a concert and speeches in her honor. Teenage Burmese girls, many in native gowns or robes, kissed her on the cheek.
She met leaders of a Bergen-based group that offered her early support, the Rafto Foundation for Human Rights, which awarded her its highest prize in 1990. As with her Nobel, she couldn’t personally claim her prize at the time because Burma’s dictatorship had placed her under house arrest.
“Whenever I go anywhere I say to the Burmese people to stay united,” said Suu Kyi. “Here there is a small community where Burmese people live but there can even be problems here. We need to show how we have unity even in a small community so other people in the majority in the country will give us respect.
“I want to ask you all to cooperate with each other working for peace. Do not enflame sensitive situations. Burmese people may be a minority here so now we know how it feels to be a minority, which is a good thing.”
Suu Kyi joked that it was very cold in Norway but after meeting the foundation members she now felt warm again.
“Bergen is a faraway place but still gives security to all people even if they are not citizens,” she said. “So why cannot our government provide security for our people at home? We need to look into this.”
At another meeting in a hotel ballroom Suu Kyi, 66, spoke at length in Burmese to more than 100 Burmese exiles living in Bergen, many of them members of minority groups hostile to the country’s military-backed government. She urged them to say nothing to undermine tentative ceasefires negotiated since 2010 between government and ethnic militia forces.
Highlighting the clashes this month in western Burma between majority Buddhists and minority Rohingya Muslims that drove an estimated 30,000 Muslims from their homes, she said Burma’s exiles abroad could play a greater role in healing divisions. She urged them not to blame other groups for the violence, insisting all factions were culpable, and asked them to offer greater vocal support for the ceasefires.
On Monday, Suu Kyi will speak at an annual Oslo retreat for some of the world’s leading peace mediators, then travel to the Irish capital, Dublin, for evening celebrations in her honor. She’s scheduled to appear alongside U2 singer Bono, her most high-profile Irish backer, at both the Oslo and Dublin events.
Burma’s rulers first imprisoned Suu Kyi in 1989, the year before her National League for Democracy swept to victory in national elections. The government annulled that result and kept Suu Kyi under house arrest for most of the next 21 years, freeing her in 2010 following the country’s first elections in two decades.
Suu Kyi’s party boycotted that election but has pursued reconciliation with the military-backed government of President Thein Sein formed as a result of that vote. Last month Suu Kyi led her party into Burma’s national assembly as the main opposition for the first time.
She launched her European tour after receiving assurances from the government that she could travel freely without risk of being blocked from returning home, her longstanding fear. She has already visited Switzerland and, after Ireland, will spend several days in England, then finish in France.