18th June, 2012
OSLO: Myanmar’s democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi was to head Sunday to the Norwegian fjords for talks on her country’s future after wowing crowds in Oslo where she gave her long-overdue Nobel speech.
The veteran activist—in Europe for the first time in a quarter-century after enduring years of house arrest for her freedom struggle—has been feted since the start of her five-nation tour in Geneva on Wednesday.
Her visit has been hailed all the more because of the rapid change in her home country also known as Burma, where a former military junta that ruled the country with an iron fist for decades has pledged to follow a path to democracy.
On Sunday, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate will visit the Rafto Foundation, a human rights group based in the coastal city of Bergen that honoured her with its annual award in 1990 and made her its patron in 1999.
Her prize “for her peaceful struggle under the military dictatorship,” like the Nobel the following year, was accepted by her family, as Suu Kyi feared she would not be allowed to return to Myanmar if she left the country.
“Her visit means very, very much to us,” said the foundation’s executive director, Therese Jebsen, speaking by phone from Bergen about Suu Kyi, the Oxford-educated daughter of the country’s independence hero.
“It’s actually the greatest thing that’s happened in the history of the Rafto Foundation,” Jebsen said. “She has been part of our history for 22 years. She has been one of our most important sources of inspiration.”
Suu Kyi was to hold morning talks with Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Store before flying to Bergen, a picturesque city with multi-coloured rows of wooden houses on the harbourside that is known as the Gateway to the Fjords.
Representatives of non-government groups and business schools will meet with Suu Kyi at the Rafto Foundation to discuss ways to support development in her impoverished country as it reopens to the world, Jebsen said.
A topic of special concern will be how Myanmar goes about managing its vast natural resources, especially oil and gas, in a way that benefits the people.
Myanmar’s political reforms—from allowing Suu Kyi’s party into mainstream politics to freeing political prisoners—have led the United States, the European Union and others to roll back or suspend long-standing sanctions.
Some now fear a free-for-all business bonanza in the country, and Suu Kyi herself has stressed that ethical, transparent and “human-rights friendly, democracy-friendly investment is what we’re looking for.”
Jebsen said that Norway, a rare liberal democracy among the world’s top oil-producing countries, may have lessons and technical advice to help Myanmar “manage the resources in a democratic way.”
In Oslo, asked about her country’s broader political reforms, she told the BBC: “I have been speaking out against what I call reckless optimism and calling for a bit of healthy skepticism.”
After the closed-door talks at the Rafto House for Human Rights, she will meet the city’s Burmese exile community at a hotel, then address a public meeting in the city centre before flying back to Oslo.
After more meetings near the Norwegian capital, Suu Kyi is set to receive a rock star’s welcome Monday in Dublin at a concert by Irish singer and global rights campaigner Bono.
Afterward some 5,000 people are expected to sing “happy birthday” to Suu Kyi, who turns 67 on Tuesday, at a public event.
She then travels to Britain, which was her long-time home until 24 years ago, before wrapping up her tour in France.