Aung San Suu Kyi arrives in Switzerland

Burma's opposition leader has arrived in Geneva, at the beginning of a 17-day tour of five countries, including the UK

Aung San Suu Kyi has arrived in Switzerland as European leaders prepare to roll out the red carpets for the Burmese opposition leader.

The 66-year-old former political prisoner and head of Burma's National League for Democracy is due to address the UN's International Labour Organisation in Geneva on Thursday at the beginning of a 17-day tour of five countries, including the UK.

It is the first time in 24 years that The Lady, as she is known, has visited Europe since returning from Oxford to her native Myanmar, as Burma is now renamed. She spent the majority of those years under house arrest.

In a packed itinerary, she will fly from Geneva to Norway's capital, Oslo, for what is expected to be an emotional acceptance speech on Saturday for her Nobel peace prize, awarded to her 21 years ago. It was collected by her husband, the Oxford academic Dr Michael Aris, who died in 1999, and their two sons, Alexander, then 18, and Kim, then 14.

She was unable to receive it in person due to a deep-seated fear that if she left Burma, where she has been a unifying symbol for freedom and democracy, she would be unable to return to continue her nonviolent struggle against a repressive military junta.

The head of the Nobel committee, Thorbjoern Jagland, said he thought her long-delayed acceptance speech "will be one of the most historic events in Nobel peace prize history".

While in Norway, she will also visit the Rafto Foundation in Bergen, named after Norwegian human rights activist Thorolf Rafto, which awarded her the Rafto prize in 1990.

On Monday, a concert in her honour is being staged in Dublin, Ireland, where U2 frontman Bono will present her with the Ambassador of Conscience award, Amnesty International's most prestigious honour.

She arrives in Britain on Tuesday, her 67th birthday, and is expected to enjoy a family gathering, possibly meeting with the two grandchildren she has never seen.

She is due to receive an honorary doctorate at Oxford, where she studied and later lived with her husband and their young sons.

In London, she will address both houses of parliament in Westminster Hall – a rare honour usually accorded only to heads of state.

The last stop will be France, after she was personally invited by the new President François Hollande.

In April 1988, Suu Kyi left her family in Oxford to nurse her dying mother in Myanmar. As the daughter of Burma's independence hero Gen Aung San, she was swept to the forefront of an uprising against the military regime. At the time, she said: "As my father's daughter, I felt I had a duty to get involved".

She was viewed as such a threat to the junta she was kept isolated and under house arrest for 15 of the next 22 years. She was released for the last time in November 2010. In April, she won a seat in the lower house (Pyithu Hlattaw) of Myanmar's parliament.

This is her second overseas visit having only recently been granted a passport. She recently spent five days in Thailand where she addressed the World Economic Forum on East Asia in Bangkok.

Her visit comes as Myanmar president Thein Sein, whose government has been praised for recent reforms, struggles to contain sectarian violence in western Myanmar between Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims, which has claimed at least 21 lives since Friday.


Caroline Davies

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Aung San Suu Kyi kicks off European tour in Switzerland
Burma's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi will also visit Britain, France, Ireland and Norway during historic 17-day trip

Caroline Davies

14, Jun, 2012 @1:05 PM

Article image
Aung San Suu Kyi arrives in Oslo to collect Nobel prize
Veteran Burmese dissident welcomed to Norway by country's prime minister, Jens Stoltenberg

Peter Beaumont in Oslo

15, Jun, 2012 @11:14 PM

Article image
Aung San Suu Kyi accepts Nobel peace prize

Burmese pro-democracy leader says prize, awarded in 1991, helped shatter her sense of isolation during house arrest

Peter Beaumont in Oslo

16, Jun, 2012 @1:49 PM

Article image
Aung San Suu Kyi must face Myanmar’s harsh realities
Letters: Calls for Aung San Suu Kyi to be stripped of her Nobel peace prize are simplistic, argues Gerry Abbott, while Randir Singh Bains says some Rohingya Muslims must share the blame for the Myanmar crisis


07, Sep, 2017 @5:39 PM

Article image
Aung San Suu Kyi accepts 1991 Nobel peace prize – video

Burmese democracy campaigner and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi delivers her Nobel acceptance speech in Oslo's city hall

18, Jun, 2012 @8:55 AM

Article image
Take away Aung San Suu Kyi’s Nobel peace prize. She no longer deserves it | George Monbiot
Once she was an inspiration. Now, silent on the plight of the Rohingya, she is complicit in crimes against humanity, writes the Guardian columnist George Monbiot

George Monbiot

05, Sep, 2017 @6:30 PM

Article image
Aung San Suu Kyi supporters claim victory in Burma byelection

Burmese Nobel laureate and pro-democracy linchpin said to have won 65% of preferences counted so far after landmark vote

Esmer Golluoglu in Rangoon

01, Apr, 2012 @12:20 PM

Article image
Aung San Suu Kyi finds common ground with Orbán over Islam
On a rare trip to Europe, Myanmar leader and Hungary PM discuss issue of ‘growing Muslim populations’

Hannah Ellis-Petersen

06, Jun, 2019 @5:12 AM

Outcry over jailing of Aung San Suu Kyi

Burmese pro-democracy opposition leader faces up to five years in prison after John Yettaw swims across lake to her property

Chris McGreal in Washington

14, May, 2009 @9:18 PM

Article image
Burma sectarian violence motivated by fear, says Aung San Suu Kyi
Burmese opposition leader stops short of condemning anti-Muslim violence and insists no ethnic cleansing is taking place in Radio 4 interview

Haroon Siddique

24, Oct, 2013 @8:51 AM