Suu Kyi To Accept Nobel Peace Prize, Decades Late

Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is due to make an acceptance speech in Oslo Saturday for the Nobel Peace Prize she was awarded in 1991. Host Scott Simon talks with NPR's Anthony Kuhn.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Aung San Suu Kyi has delivered a speech in Norway to formally accept the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize. The opposition leader of Myanmar, also known as Burma, was delayed giving that speech for 21 years because the country's then ruling military junta had put her under house arrest. In her speech, Aung San Suu Kyi urged the world not to forget prisoners of conscious who, unlike herself, are not free.

And she thanked friends all over the world for supporting her while she was under house arrest.

AUNG SAN SUU KYI: When the Nobel committee chose to honor me, the road I had chosen of my own free will became a less lonely path to follow. For this, I thank the committee, the people of Norway and peoples all over the world whose support has strengthened my faith in the common quest for peace. Thank you.

SIMON: NPR's Anthony Kuhn has been following Aung San Suu Kyi on her first trips abroad in 24 years and he joins us from Oslo. Thanks very much for being with us, Anthony.

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: Thanks for having me, Scott.

SIMON: And Aung San Suu Kyi's supporters clearly saw this speech, so long delayed, as a kind of promise kept, didn't they?

KUHN: Yes. And a cause vindicated. She always promised that she would go to Norway when she was free to go and when she could come home without fear of being shut out and now she's done it. Even more than that, the head of the Nobel committee, Thornbjorn Jagland, saw this as a vindication that, you know, of the Nobel committee's choice of Aung San Suu Kyi for the prize; the fact that she had gone from prisoner of conscious to now member of Parliament and perhaps in 2015, president of Myanmar.

Now, he even said that, you know, it's a bright moment for democracies of the world at a time when certain authoritarian countries seem to be surging ahead economically, for which you might understand, China.

SIMON: Yeah. Of course, at the same time, according to reports, at least 50 people have been killed in sectarian violence in Myanmar, also known as Burma, recently. Did Aung San Suu Kyi have any reaction to that, the current situation in her country?

KUHN: Well, she did mention a lot about the current situation. She noted, for example, that ethnic conflicts are still going on and that, in truth, the country has not known peace since it won independence from Great Britain in 1948. But she acknowledged the political changes that are going on, the reforms, the release of prisoners and the foreign investment that's poised to flow in.

As for the fighting between Muslims and Buddhists going on in western Rakhine state bordering Bangladesh, she has not come out with a clear statement saying that those Muslims, many of whom have lived in the country for generations are, in fact, Burmese citizens. I think some observers feel she's waffled a bit.

SIMON: What stands out in her speech, in her remarks?

KUHN: Both the Nobel committee and she, herself, reminisced about some of the more dramatic moments in her history, how she wrote to her late husband, the British academic Michael Harris, asking for his understanding that if fate and the events of her country should require them to separate that he would understand; of how isolated she felt under all those years under house arrest and how her Buddhist faith and her meditation kept her strong.

SIMON: And is it expected that her speech and her travels will have an effect inside of Burma?

KUHN: It's entirely possible. It could, for example, rankle the leaders of that country that Aung San Suu Kyi is seen as the leader and not them. On the other hand, they could be very happy that they have such an outstanding ambassador in her who speaks such marvelous English and is so eloquent - that is if they're on the same page, she can do that.

Finally, it's definite that all this inspirational rhetoric that she has spoken at this speech will raise expectations sky high and now she will have to make good on the use in the hurly-burly of politics. And as she admitted, that will not be easy.

SIMON: NPR's Anthony Kuhn, who's been following Aung San Suu Kyi on her first trips abroad in 24 years. He joins us from Oslo. Thanks so much.

KUHN: Thank you, Scott.

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