24 Years Later, Aung San Suu Kyi Returns to Britain

Posted June 19th, 2012 at 4:15 am (UTC-5)
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Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi continues her European tour Tuesday in Britain, where she will reunite with family after leaving the country nearly a quarter century ago.

The Nobel laureate, who turns 67 Tuesday, will participate in a panel discussion at the London School of Economics before attending a family reunion in Oxford.

Later in the week, Aung San Suu Kyi will address both houses of parliament in London – a rare honor usually given only to high-profile foreign dignitaries.

She lived and studied for years in Britain before returning to her homeland in 1988 to care for her ailing mother. She became the leader of Burma's pro-democracy movement and spent much of the next two decades in detention under the country's military rulers.

London is the latest stop on Aung San Suu Kyi's 17-day European tour, where she has been warmly greeted by thousands of adoring fans who view her as a human rights icon.

Monique Skidmore, a Burma analyst at the University of Canberra, says that the tour underscores the rare achievement of becoming a global historical figure.

“She's become so much more than simply an icon of democratic reform in Burma. The principles she espouses about democracy and about the rights of people to live in freedom from fear, and the comments that she makes about a common humanity and conflict resolution, these are some very deep human principles and we haven't seen them espoused for example since the time Martin Luther King or Gandhi. She's become one of these very few people in human history who can become a moral compass, and it transcends any particular country now.”

The Burmese lawmaker arrived Tuesday in Britain from Ireland, where she received a welcome from U2 singer Bono at a concert in her honor.

She also received Amnesty International's highest human rights award – the Ambassador of Conscience Award. The group awarded her the prize in 2009, but she could not collect it at the time because of her detention.

On Saturday, Aung San Suu Kyi received a thunderous welcome in Oslo, where she formally accepted the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize denied her in 1991 by her jailers.

Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrest in late 2010, as a period of political change began in Burma following half a century of military rule. A new, nominally civilian government was elected in November 2010 and took office four months later.

After her release, Aung San Suu Kyi resumed active leadership of the National League for Democracy, which she co-founded, and won election to an open seat in parliament in April.