US to award Suu Kyi on first visit in decades

The United States will present its highest award to Myanmar's democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi in September when she makes her first US trip since years under house arrest, sources said Tuesday.

Suu Kyi, who was elected to parliament this year in a dramatic sign of Myanmar's reforms, will travel to Washington in September to receive the Congressional Gold Medal, congressional aides told AFP.

The medal is the top honor bestowed by the US Congress, with the ceremonies often bringing together the president and top lawmakers. Congress voted to give the medal to Suu Kyi in May 2008 when the prospect of her leaving Myanmar looked remote.

It would be the 67-year-old Suu Kyi's first visit to the United States since the 1980s. She spent most of the past two decades under house arrest after a military junta refused to accept her party's victory in 1990 elections.

Suu Kyi did not travel abroad again until May this year when she went to Thailand. Last month, she made an extensive tour of Europe, where she belatedly accepted her Nobel Peace Prize, was feted in major capitals and admitted that she was exhausted.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton invited Suu Kyi to Washington when the top US diplomat paid a landmark visit to Myanmar, also known as Burma, in December.

State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said he had no announcement to make on Suu Kyi's travels but told reporters: "We look forward to, at an appropriate date, welcoming Aung San Suu Kyi here."

Suu Kyi will also visit New York on September 21 to accept an award at a dinner of the Atlantic Council, said Taleen Ananian, a spokeswoman for the think-tank.

The dinner takes place in New York at the same time as the United Nations General Assembly, which each year brings leaders from across the world to the global body's headquarters in Manhattan.

The Atlantic Council said it would present its "Global Citizen" awards to Suu Kyi along with Japan's Sadako Ogata, a former UN high commissioner for refugees.

"By honoring two such brave women -- one of the most well-known political prisoners of our times and a courageous campaigner for human rights from Bosnia to Rwanda -- we help define the notion of global citizenship even as we honor it," Atlantic Council president and CEO Frederick Kempe said in a statement.

The think-tank will also present awards to Henry Kissinger, the 89-year-old former secretary of state and apostle of realpolitik, and music legend and humanitarian Quincy Jones.

Since taking office last year, Myanmar's President Thein Sein has surprised even many cynics by reaching out to Suu Kyi and ethnic minorities and freeing political prisoners.

The reforms came after Obama opened talks with Myanmar, offering an easing of sanctions in return for movement toward democracy.

Obama had tied his policy closely to Suu Kyi, who enjoys wide respect across the US political spectrum. But Obama last week made a rare break with Suu Kyi by opening Myanmar to US investment -- including in the oil and gas sector.

Suu Kyi had urged foreign companies to hold back on partnering with the Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise until it undertakes reforms. Rights groups say that Myanmar's energy sector funds the powerful military and fuels abuses, including forced labor by villagers.

Suu Kyi played down the decision after it was announced, telling AFP that the move was "nothing significant" but repeating her call for transparency by foreign firms.

The US Senate is debating an annual extension of longstanding sanctions on Myanmar, including a ban on all imports of gems and other goods seen as benefiting the military.

Suu Kyi spoke about the legislation by telephone with Senator Mitch McConnell, the top Republican in the chamber and a longtime critic of human rights abuses in Myanmar, spokesmen for the two said separately.


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