Suu Kyi in France for last leg of historic tour
AFP PARIS MYANMAR democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi arrived in Paris on Tuesday for the last leg of a European tour that has seen her hailed as a powerful symbol of peaceful defiance to dictatorship.
The 67-year-old Nobel Peace laureate was greeted by wellwishers from the local Myanmar community and human rights groups as she arrived by train from Britain.
“It’s a very great joy. Seeing her here, free, it’s historic,” Pierre Martial, the head of the France Aung San Suu Kyi association, said at the Paris train station. “She is a fantastic role model. She made horror and dictatorship retreat through non-violence, it is very rare,” he said.
Suu Kyi came to France after warm welcomes in Switzerland, Ireland, Norway and Britain and was to be treated with honours normally accorded a head of state, including a meeting on Tuesday with French President Francois Hollande at the Elysee Palace for dinner and a press conference.
“France will pay tribute to this woman’s exceptional struggle for human rights and will mark its active support for the democratic transition under way” in Myanmar, foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said.
During her three-day visit Suu Kyi will also meet Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and other top political leaders as well as members of the local Myanmar community and her supporters in human rights groups.
Martial said her visit to France was motivated by a desire to thank her supporters in the country. “France is a symbol in the hearts of many,” he said. “It remains the country of human rights and it is a country that was very mobilised for her.” Martial said she would also use the visit to urge French authorities and businesses to back the country’s democratic transition.
“She is calling on some countries to give concrete help, to invest in a reasonable and fair way, to help the country revive after years of economic and political horror,” he said.
Martial called on French authorities to “commit very concretely” during her visit to providing both financial and moral support to independent pro-democracy groups operating in Myanmar.
Suu Kyi was freed from nearly two decades of house arrest inNovember 2010 and became a lawmaker earlier this year as part of a gradual transition towards democracy in the Southeast Asian nation.
She enjoyed strong support among rights groups in France and was the subject of a 2011 French-English film biography, “The Lady”, directed by French filmmaker Luc Besson and starring Michelle Yeoh.
Suu Kyi launched her European tour, on June 13, in Switzerland and arrived in France from Britain, where she studied and lived for several years until she returned to fight for democracy in Myanmar, leaving her children and her English husband behind.
On June 16 in Oslo she finally delivered her Nobel Peace Prize speech, 21 years after winning the award while under house arrest, pledging to keep up her struggle for democracy.
Despite some optimism surrounding reforms in the country, France-based groups including the International Federation for Human Rights and the Human Rights League urged the international community to maintain pressure on Myanmar’s leadership for reform.
In a statement, the groups called for “great caution regarding the easing of economic sanctions and an increase in investment” in Myanmar, noting “the lack of an independent judicial system” and “continued repression of public demonstrations”.