Burma's women of "courage" win US award

Apr 9, 2008 (AFP), US First Lady Laura Bush has conferred an award honoring the women of military-ruled Burma in their determined battle to restore democracy and human rights in the Southeast Asian state.

Democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel laureate who has spent more than 12 years under house arrest since 1989, is spearheading the campaign for reforms in Burma.

The award was given by President George W. Bush’s wife late on Monday on behalf of Vital Voices Global Partnership, a non-governmental organization that identifies, trains and empowers emerging women leaders and social entrepreneurs around the globe.

Charm Tong, a member of a women’s action group from Burma’s Shan state where rights groups had accused the military of systematically raping tribal women, received the award on behalf of her compatriots.

Another Burmese human rights award recipient, Khin Ohmar, coordinator of the Asia Pacific People’s Partnership on Burma, could not attend the ceremony due to work commitments.

"We pay tribute to the people of Burma — especially the women, who have inspired the world with their grace and courage in the face of brutality," Laura Bush said at the awards presentation ceremony.

Since the military’s bloody crackdown on peaceful protests led by monks in October last year, the first lady has personally campaigned to press for democratic rights for the people of Burma.

"Unarmed monks who led the demonstrations were beaten, arrested, and killed. Bullets were sprayed into crowds of peaceful protesters, and thousands were imprisoned under shameful conditions," she said, recollecting the crackdown.

"Arrests and beatings of peaceful activists continue today, and demonstrators remain incarcerated," she said.

Other Vital Voices award recipients were Mariane Pearl, the widow of Wall Street Journal correspondent Daniel Pearl, who was kidnapped and murdered by Islamic militants in Pakistan, Kakenya Ntaiya, an education advocate from Kenya and Laura Alonso, political corruption activist from Argentina.

United Arab Emirates Trade Minister Sheikha Lubna al Qasimi received the "global trailblazer" award for being the first woman to hold a cabinet position in her country.

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