LONDON // Myanmar's opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, warned yesterday that her country's people need Britain and other allies to act as watchdogs, and not cheerleaders, to ensure its rulers deliver on their promises of reform.
Making a historic address in London to a joint session of both Houses of Parliament, Ms Suu Kyi said Myanmar - which she referred to by its British colonial name of Burma - would need sometimes critical support to fully embrace democracy after 49 years of military rule that ended only last year.
"I am here in part to ask for practical help, help as a friend and an equal, in support of the reforms which can bring better lives, greater opportunities, to the people of Burma, who have been for so long deprived of their rights and their place in the world," Ms Suu Kyi said in Parliament's Westminster Hall.
"My country today stands at the start of a journey towards, I hope, a better future. So many hills remain to be climbed, chasms to be bridged, obstacles to be breached," said Ms Suu Kyi, who was cheered and given a standing ovation by British legislators. "Our own determination can get us so far. The support of the people of Britain and of peoples around the world can get us so much further."
Ms Suu Kyi is the only woman other than Queen Elizabeth II to deliver a speech to a joint session of Parliament at Westminster Hall. The honour is usually reserved only for heads of state.
Ms Suu Kyi, who spent 15 years imprisoned under house arrest in Myanmar, is making her first overseas trip in 24 years.
She has visited Switzerland, Norway and Ireland and is spending a week in Britain, where she previously studied and lived.
As she was greeted by David Cameron, the British prime minister, at 10 Downing Street, Ms Suu Kyi said she remembered her father, Myanmar independence leader Aung San, had been photographed outside the famous house, wrapped in a large British military-issue coat to protect against the cold.
"I must say, not having left my tropical country for 24 years, there have been odd moments this week when I have thought of that coat myself," Ms Suu Kyi said.
She also met Prince Charles and his wife Camilla yesterday at their Clarence House residence, where she planted a tree.
Britain is among Western nations that have suspended sanctions against Myanmar following the president, Thein Sein's, moves toward political liberalisation since he took office in 2011. Cameron said on Thursday he had invited Thein Sein for talks in London. The two met in Yangon in April.
Suu Kyi said she supported the meeting. "More than ever, we need our friends to be watchdogs. You have to watch what is going on in Burma," she told Mr Cameron.