In an emotional return to the country she left two decades ago, at the time expecting to only be away a few months, Aung San Suu Kyi finally arrived in Britain yesterday with a message of thanks to her followers around the world – and a warning to any unethical foreign investors hoping to make a fast profit in her homeland.
In front of a packed audience in central London, the Burmese opposition leader described how international support helped sustain her through the 14 dark years of forced house arrest by Burma's military junta, an imprisonment that stopped her leaving her homeland even as her British husband lay dying from cancer.
"It's all of you and people like you that have given me the strength to continue," she said to cheers from a crowd of students and academics at the London School of Economics before adding with characteristic humour: "And I suppose I do have a stubborn streak in me."
The 67-year-old dissident has spent the past week on a whistle-stop tour of Europe made possible by gradual reforms in Burma which are being seen as a glimmer of hope for an impoverished nation that has been under the heel of a military dictatorship for half a century.
In comparison to the festival atmosphere that greeted her in Oslo and Dublin, her British tour began on a noticeably cerebral note. Those expecting to see a charismatic orator were instead confronted with a carefully spoken woman debating with academics at about the importance of the rule of law.
"Unless people see that justice is done and seen to be done, we cannot believe in genuine reform," she said.
Burma's ruling military elite surprised many two years ago when it transferred power to a civilian government. Elections were held for a handful of parliamentary seats earlier this year in which Ms Suu Kyi won a position but much of the power – including 75 per cent of the parliamentary seats – still rests in the hands of the military.
Most European sanctions have been lifted with the expectation that businesses will soon enter Burma en masse. Calling for "democracy-friendly, human rights-friendly investments", she said: "Investors must take responsibility for the results of the business."Reuse content