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A hero’s welcome in U.S. for democracy activist

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Published : 2012-09-19 20:28
Updated : 2012-09-19 20:28

Her visit to the United States is surely a proud moment for Aung San Suu Kyi.

Her schedule includes, among other things, her acceptance Wednesday of the U.S. Congress’ highest award.

The U.S. legislature awarded Burma’s feted democracy leader the Congressional Gold Medal while she was still under house arrest in 2008.

Her visit, and trips earlier this year to Thailand and Europe, highlight the progress that Myanmar is making toward democracy.
Aung San Suu Kyi

Just two years ago she was under house arrest. This year she became a member of parliament.

In a further show of purpose, Myanmar announced the release of 500 prisoners Monday, with many of them thought to be political prisoners.

There is still a long way to go, and the military still dominates both the government and the parliament.

Suu Kyi, a former political prisoner herself, said that more than 200 were still held, and that Myanmar would not be fully democratic until they were released.

But the process of democratization for Myanmar has been gradual, and the course navigated so far has been more cooperative than adversarial. Suu Kyi’s schedule has been carefully designed to avoid overshadowing President Thein Sein’s own visit to to attend the U.N. General Assembly’s annual gathering of world leaders in New York.

She also took care to give him credit for the progress made since his election in March 2011 ― albeit with a note of caution on how reform was approached.

She has also been under pressure from Sein to support further lifting of U.S. sanctions. An aide was quoted by the Associated Press ahead of her visit as hinting that they were not keen on calling for an easing of sanctions.

On Tuesday, however, Suu Kyi was unequivocal.

“I do support the easing of sanctions because I think that our people must start to take responsibility for their own destiny,” Suu Kyi said.

“We should not depend on U.S. sanctions to keep up the momentum for democracy. We have got to work at it ourselves.”

Continued progress may depend on cooperation between these two figures, and more broadly between the government and the democracy movement. But so far, both sides seem keen to stay on course.

By Paul Kerry (paulkerry@heraldcorp.com)

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