World unites to honour Suu Kyi

Eminent international leaders including Kofi Annan, Nelson Mandela and Barack Obama have joined thousands of activists and democracy figureheads the world over to honour Aung San Suu Kyi’s birthday today.

The Nobel laureate and Burmese opposition leader will celebrate her 65th birthday inside the dilapidated lakeside mansion, where she has been held a prisoner of the Burmese regime for nearly 15 years.

US president Barack Obama said: “I wish to convey my best wishes to Aung San Suu Kyi, the world’s only imprisoned Nobel Peace Laureate, on the occasion of her 65th birthday on June 19.  Her determination, courage, and personal sacrifice in working for human rights and democratic change in Burma inspire all of us who stand for freedom and justice.”

The Elders, a group of prominent global figures founded by Mandela, yesterday left an empty chair for Suu Kyi as a gesture of her honourary membership of the group. Elder member Desmond Tutu lamented the “deep fractures in society” caused by nearly half a century of military rule in Burma, and urged reconciliation to “achieve the peace and prosperity [the Burmese people] deserve.”

Jimmy Carter, former US president and 2002 Nobel Peace Prize recipient, said that Suu Kyi remains “a global symbol of moral courage in the face of repression”.

“As she spends yet another year in captivity, we urge the world, and especially Burma/Myanmar’s partners in ASEAN, to recognise that it is an oppressive and misguided regime that excludes her and thousands of other political activists from playing a part in their country’s future.”

ASEAN refers to the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations bloc, whose policy of non-interference in the domestic affairs of member states, including Burma, has been heavily criticised.

But perhaps the most striking message was delivered by one of Suu Kyi’s closest confidantes in a letter smuggled out of Burma and given to the Independent. The letter, penned by fellow Burmese pro-democracy icon, Win Tin, began: “I want to repeat and echo her own words”.

It went on to make a passionate plea to the outside world to “use your liberty to promote ours”, a quote first ushered by Suu Kyi in 1997. Win Tin added that Burma, one of the world’s poorest nations, was “starving” for freedom.

A collection of previously unseen photographs of Suu Kyi was published by the Guardian newspaper yesterday to mark her birthday. Gifted to the newspaper by Suu Kyi’s family, it gives a rare glimpse into the life of ‘The Lady’ before her return to Burma in 1988 and subsequent years under house arrest.

Activists from Australia to the Philippines to Britain today and yesterday rallied in tribute to Suu Kyi, urging the Burmese junta to release the 65 year old. But her current spell under house arrest is not due to expire until early 2011, months after Burma’s elections likely further cement the status quo in the country and leave Suu Kyi’s fate in the hands of the military generals.

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