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Burma’s Suu Kyi Prepares for US Visit

  • Ron Corben

Burma's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi attends a regular session of the parliament in Naypyitaw, August 14, 2012.

Burma's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi attends a regular session of the parliament in Naypyitaw, August 14, 2012.

Burma’s opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, is set to embark on a visit to the United States, highlighted by awards and meetings with senior U.S. government leaders and the Burmese community. It comes as Burma's President Thein Sein is also to travel to the U.S. Human rights concerns are also expected to be on the agenda.

In her first trip to the United States in two decades, Burma’s opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, will be given awards for her long struggle for political reform in Burma and will meet with U.S. President Barack Obama.

Aung San Suu Kyi spent the better part of two decades under house arrest for her campaign for political reform in Burma - also known as Myanmar. Among the awards she is to receive is the Congressional Gold Medal, the U.S. Congress' highest civilian award.

The more than two-week trip to the U.S. follows a visit to Europe earlier this year where she formally received her 1991 Nobel Peace Prize.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s visit marks comes during political reform in Burma under President Thein Sein. After being released from house arrest, the opposition leader was elected to parliament this year, marking a full transition from life as a political prisoner.

Debbie Stothard, spokeswoman for rights group, the Alternative Asean Network, says while the U.S. trip is a “celebration”, Aung San Suu Kyi should tell supporters many issues remain unresolved in Burma.

“For many people Aung San Suu Kyi’s trips to Europe and the U.S. this year is as celebration that after two decades of campaigning, that this turning point should be celebrated," she said. "However, Aung San Suu Kyi’s message should also be that there’s still a long way to go, you still have to be careful and not take any positive developments for granted.”

The U.S. visit coincides with that by Burma's President Thein Sein, who is due to attend the U.N. General Assembly this month. Some analysts say Aung San Suu Kyi’s visit will overshadow the president.

But Sean Turnell, an associate professor at Macquarie University, says the visits will compliment each other.

“One of the really good things about Thein Sein -- he’s only to be there for a term - He’s got a view very much on his legacy about setting Burma up in the right way. And in a sense Suu Kyi is a considerable asset to him. Because she’s an extraordinarily popular figure she put’s Burma on the map in ways that nobody else really can,” he said.

Turnell says the U.S. is likely to announce a further easing of trade sanctions on Burma.

Other analysts say Aung San Suu Kyi may face questioning over her stance on the sensitive issues of inter-ethnic clashes between Muslim and Buddhist communities in Western Rakhine State that have left dozens killed and injured and hundreds of homes destroyed.

Ko Bo Kyi, a spokesman for the Thai-based rights group, Assistance Association for Political Prisoners Burma (AAPP) says Aung San Suu Kyi should draw attention to ongoing human rights issues in Burma.

“[Suu Kyi] will be asked questions about what is happening in Arakan (Rakhine) State," he said. "These are important things for Burma. She might be asked what is happening in Kachin State - the civil war in Kachin State. [But] her trip cannot change U.S. policy without changing the ground situation especially without stopping human rights violations all across Burma.”

Ko Bo Kyi says there is the need for release of all remaining political prisoners as well as efforts to halt the ongoing conflicts in eastern Burma before further changes in U.S policy should be expected.

Besides the Congressional Gold Medal award, Aung San Suu Kyi will also receive awards from the Asia Society and the Atlantic Council Global Citizen Award. During her visit she will give public addresses at the University of Louisville, Kentucky, as well as visiting Yale and Harvard universities. She will also be meeting with Burmese communities in the United States.

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