“If we go forward together I’m confident there will be no turning back from the road to democracy,” Suu Kyi told reporters afterward in a news conference, a rare occurrence for the Nobel Peace Prize laureate who has spent much of the past two decades under house arrest ordered by Burma’s military-controlled government. “We are not on that road yet, but we hope to get there as soon as possible with our friends.”
Both said that more progress needed to be made by Burma’s President Thein Sein and his government for true reform to take hold. And Suu Kyi emphasized the need for rule of law, calling on the government not only to release all remaining political prisoners but to change its policies to prevent such human rights violations in the future.
Clinton — the first senior U.S. official in half a century to visit Burma, also known as Myanmar — called Suu Kyi “an inspiration.” The pair had met for a private dinner the night before, and on Friday, the two evinced an obvious closeness in their statements and body language — greeting each other with a kiss on the cheek, holding hands at one point in the news conference and hesitating awkwardly at the end before bursting into laughter as they hugged each other goodbye.
The meeting took place at the home that Suu Kyi’s family has long owned — a compound where she spent years under house arrest. Suu Kyi introduced Clinton to the female doctor who took care of her during that time, to her chefs and even her guard dog, for whom Clinton had brought a chew toy gift.
“Chew away, chew away,”Clinton told the dog.
“Keep your distance,” Suu Kyi warned, “He thinks that people who stand close to me are a threat.”
In her comments, Suu Kyi seemed to be readying herself for her return to politics, having confirmed this week that she planned to run in next year’s parliamentary elections. Her last effort in 1990 culminated in a decisive win for her party, which was annulled by the military junta amid one of many crackdowns on democracy leaders.
At a later news conference, Clinton said she had talked to Suu Kyi “about the ups and downs and slings and arrows of political participation, and the challenges that a new democracy particularly will face because the rules are being written as you engage.”
“I think she’d be an excellent member of new parliament,” Clinton said.
Clinton also announced $1.2 million in new aid — mostly to civil society organizations that provide microlending and health care. And she spent part of her day meeting with leaders of Burma’s ethnic minorities, who have suffered violence and killings for years at the hands of the Burmese military.
The issue of ethnic rifts, in many ways, is the hardest problem the country will face as it tackles reforms. Fighting continues between Burmese soldiers and minority groups along much of the country’s border regions.
For years, Burmese troops have used rape as weapon of war to control villages opposing the military-backed government — an issue Clinton noted in her comments Friday. Human rights activists along the Thailand-Burma border say they have documented 81 cases of rape since March alone, including those of a nine-month pregnant woman and a 12-year-old schoolgirl in front of her mother.
The issue, however, is complicated by the fact that some of ethnic groups want autonomy from the Burmese government, while other factions are believed to be linked to the drug trade.