Emotional Suu Kyi honoured in Oxford

2012-06-20 17:18

Oxford - Aung San Suu Kyi said she was deeply moved on Wednesday as she was honoured by Oxford University, in the city where she studied and brought up the family she would later leave behind.

The Myanmar democracy icon also called on the prestigious seat of learning to help educate a new generation of students that could lead the Southeast Asian country along the road from military rule to democracy.

"Today has been very moving," Suu Kyi, 67, said in a speech after she was presented with an honorary doctorate in civil law in the grand surroundings of Oxford's 17th century Sheldonian Theatre.

"During those difficult years I spent under house arrest I was upheld by my memories of Oxford. They helped me cope with the challenges I had to face," she said.

Wearing a traditional longyi skirt under her scarlet academic robes, and flowers in her hair beneath her black velvet cap, Suu Kyi smiled as she received a scroll from university chancellor Chris Patten, the former governor of Hong Kong.

Alma mater

After her speech she received a standing ovation from an audience of more than 1 000 dons and students from the university where she studied politics, philosophy and economics in the mid-1960s.

Patten said, in Latin: "Unbowed champion of liberty, who have given your people and the whole world an example of courage and endurance, I on my own authority and that of the whole university admit you to the honorary degree of doctor of civil law."

Suu Kyi spent nearly two decades in Oxford, and brought up her sons Alexander and Kim there with her English husband, Michael Aris.

When she left for her homeland to care for her dying mother in 1988, she could not have imagined it would be nearly a quarter of a century before she would return.

As leader of the country's democracy movement, she refused to leave Myanmar, fearing that the military leaders would prevent her from returning.

As a result, she only saw her husband and two sons a handful of times in the intervening years. When her husband was dying in 1999 he urged her to remain in Myanmar and pursue her struggle.

She was released from house arrest in November 2010 and is now a member of parliament.

"The road ahead is not going to be easy, but Oxford, I know, expects the best of its own," she said in her speech.

"And today, because they have recognised me as one of their own, I have been strengthened to go forward to give my very best in meeting the many challenges that lie ahead."

She said she wanted to see universities in Myanmar restored to the way they were before they suffered under the military junta.

"I would be very grateful if my old university, the University of Oxford, could help to bring this about again," she said.

Receiving the honorary doctorate was one of the highlights of her week-long trip to Britain, part of her first visit to Europe since 1988.

Emotional return

On her 67th birthday on Tuesday, she made an emotional return to Oxford.

Her former college St Hugh's threw a birthday party and onlookers shouted "welcome back" as she arrived.

On Thursday she will address both houses of the British parliament - a rare honour bestowed on only four foreign dignitaries since World War II.

In an interview with BBC television on Wednesday, she confirmed her desire to lead the people of Myanmar "if I can lead them in the right way".

She rejected the suggestion that her release from more than two decades of house arrest in 2010 had been a "confidence trick" aimed at getting sanctions on the country lifted.

She also warned foreign companies rushing to invest in Myanmar since the military-backed civilian government began to implement reforms that they would be closely watched.

Her visit to Britain has been clouded by continued violence in western Myanmar where dozens of people have been killed and an estimated 90 000 people have fled clashes between Buddhist Rakhines and stateless Muslim Rohingya.