Myanmar's democracy icon and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi received the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest US civilian honor, at a ceremony held in Washington on Wednesday, four years after she was named as the recipient of the award.
Suu Kyi was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 2008, but she could not collect it then as she had been under house-arrest for the most part of the past 20 years. Notably, she collected the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to her in 1991 only in June.
Suu Kyi was presented with the Congressional Gold Medal at a ceremony attended by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former First Lady Laura Bush and a host of Republican and Democrat lawmakers.
Speaking at the ceremony, Suu Kyi said it was "one of the most moving days" of her life and thanked the United States for supporting her pro-democracy movement "during the dark years when freedom and justice seemed beyond our reach".
"The ties of friendship and understanding that have developed between you and lovers of democracy in Burma compensate for much of the trials we had to suffer over the past decades," the Nobel laureate said. She also reiterated calls for lifting the remaining US sanctions imposed on Myanmar, noting that the country's new government was "committed to democratic values."
"We believe that we can go forward in unity and in peace and give our friends the satisfaction of helping us to to get to a place where all people wish to get to: the place where dreams are realized," she added.
Suu Kyi is currently on a three-week visit to the United States, which is her first trip to the country in more than two decades. She is due to hold talks with President Barack Obama at the White House later on Wednesday.
She held talks with Secretary Clinton at the State Department on Tuesday, marking their second meeting this year. During their talks, Suu Kyi had called for further easing of sanctions against Burma's military-backed government.
The developments come ahead of Myanmar President Thein Sein's planned US visit later this month to attend the United Nations General Assembly. Earlier on Wednesday, the US Treasury removed Thein Sein and Thura Shwe Mann, the speaker of the lower house of parliament, from its list of "Specially Designated Nationals" which sanctions individuals.
Under his leadership, Myanmar, previously known as Burma, had made great strides toward democracy in recent months, including holding free elections to elect a new Parliament, freeing political prisoners and holding talks with ethnic rebel groups present in the countryside.
Since assuming power in March 2011, Thein Sein's government has also implemented several reforms demanded by the opposition and the international community. One notable stride made by Sein's government was the release from house-arrest of Suu Kyi, who has since been allowed to travel freely within the country and abroad.
Suu Kyi won a Parliament seat in the recent by-elections. Although her National League for Democracy (NLD) party boycotted the November 2010 polls, it later decided to rejoin mainstream politics and was subsequently allowed to contest the by-polls in which the party secured 40 of the 45 seats contested. Nevertheless, the Army's proxy Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) still dominate the 664-seat bicameral Parliament with about 80 percent seats.
Following the widely acclaimed by-elections and the recently implemented reforms, Western powers, including the United States, Britain, European Union and Australia, have softened their approach toward Myanmar and eased most of their sanctions imposed on the previous military junta.
by RTT Staff Writer
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