* Suu Kyi to be feted in Washington, tour US heartland
* 1991 Nobel laureate key barometer of Myanmar reform
By Paul Eckert
WASHINGTON, Sept 18 Myanmar opposition leader
Aung San Suu Kyi opened a two-week tour of the United States on
Tuesday with talks with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in
the latest step of a rapid normalization of U.S. ties with the
former pariah state.
Suu Kyi, who won the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize for championing
democracy in opposition to a ruthless military junta that held
her under house arrest for years, will be feted by the U.S.
Congress, human rights groups and Washington think tanks.
She will also visit the large emigre community from her
country, formerly known as Burma, in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and
make a series of public speeches from New York to California.
Suu Kyi's 17-day U.S. tour will coincide with a visit by
Thein Sein, Myanmar's reformist president, who heads to New York
on Sept. 24 to address the U.N. General Assembly.
Thein Sein, former junta general, was scheduled to meet U.S.
officials on the sidelines of U.N. meetings and his aides said
he would try to convey Myanmar's urgent need for the import ban
and other American sanctions to be eased.
Suu Kyi's election to parliament in April helped to
transform Myanmar's pariah image and convince the West to begin
rolling back sanctions after a year of dramatic reforms,
including the release of about 700 political prisoners in
amnesties between May 2011 and July.
Before she arrived in the United States on Monday, Myanmar
announced a pardon of more than 500 prisoners in an amnesty that
included at least 80 political detainees, according to
The announcement, seen as a step that could strengthen the
former military state's growing bonds with Washington, did not
make clear if any of the 514 were political prisoners, but two
activist groups who monitor dissidents jailed in Myanmar said
more than 80 were given presidential pardons.
The U.S. State Department reacted cautiously on Monday to
news of the amnesty, repeating its call for "the immediate and
unconditional release of all political prisoners."
The U.S. Campaign for Burma, a Washington-based democracy
advocacy group, said the United States was correct to retain
sanctions for leverage and remove them only gradually amid
ongoing war against ethnic minority groups in Myanmar.
"The fragility of the peace talks with various ethnic groups
and the situation in western Burma remain serious issues that
need more substantial progress before we believe any additional
U.S, sanctions are lifted," said Jennifer Quigley, the group's