Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, on her first visit to Europe in nearly a quarter of a century, warned that her country’s political transformation was not irreversible and the military had to give up its excessive powers.
Suu Kyi, in Norway to accept her 1991 Nobel Peace Prize, called for national reconciliation but skirted the issue of Myanmar’s recent ethnic violence, which has threatened to derail its transformation from dictatorship.
“We are not at the end of the road, by no means, we are just starting out,” said a tired-looking, rarely smiling Suu Kyi, who still appeared to be recovering from falling ill on Thursday.
However, she rejected a suggestion that her aim was to dismantle the military.
“I have never thought that I was doing anything against the military, I’ve always said I want the military, the army to be an honourable, professional army that is respected by the people,” Suu Kyi said at a press conference with Norwegian prime minister Jens Stoltenberg on Friday.
“I fight against what is dangerous for the democratic process and the military having the kind of powers that they shouldn’t have certainly endangers the democratic process,” said Suu Kyi, daughter of general Aung San, Myanmar’s independence hero, who was assassinated in 1947.
Suu Kyi, who spent a total of 15 years under house arrest between 1989 and her release in late 2010, has been negotiating a fragile transition with President Thein Sein and entered parliament in a special by-election in April.
Suu Kyi’s 17-day European trip has been clouded by sectarian violence between Rakhine Buddhists and stateless Muslim Rohingyas, testing Myanmar’s 15-month-old quasi-civilian government.
On Friday, a fragile peace held in the wake of days of that has stoked nationalist fervour and displaced 30,000 people and killed 29 by government accounts.
Suu Kyi did not address the issue, except to say: “We want to work for national reconciliation and we are not going to do anything that harms that.”
The government has made peace and unity among Myanmar’s many ethnic groups its mantra and has struck ceasefire deals with minority Karen, Shan, Mon and Chin rebels, among others, after decades of hostilities.
But there is entrenched, long-standing animosity between Rakhine Buddhists and around 800,000 Muslim Rohingyas, who mostly live in abject conditions and who still do not possess citizenship.
The crisis has put Thein Sein in a tight spot. His government is under pressure from rights groups and Western countries to show compassion towards the Rohingyas but if there is any change in policy towards them, it could face the wrath of the public, many of whom regard them as illegal immigrants.
Suu Kyi, who is also discussing the issue of investments in Myanmar, asked for transparent, “democracy friendly” investment in the private sector, which do not enhance the powers of the government.