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Suu Kyi supports easing of US sanctions

Democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi has endorsed a further easing of US sanctions on Myanmar. Opening her landmark tour of the US she said Myanmar must take charge of its fight for democracy and not rely on external support.

Kicking off her first visit to the US since she was released from house arrest in 2010, the Nobel peace laureate expressed her gratitude to the United States for its support in promoting democracy in Myanmar or Burma, but she asserted that her country was now ready to go it alone.

"I do not think that we need to cling on to sanctions unnecessarily because I want our people to be responsible for their own destiny and not to depend too much on external props," she said at the US Institute of Peace in Washington.

"I do not think we should depend on US sanctions to keep up the momentum of our movement for democracy; we've got to work at it ourselves."

The opposition leader had long supported economic sanctions against the military junta which led Myanmar between 1962 and 2010. Military rule has now disbanded in place of a pro-military, nominally elected government.

A host of democratic reforms under Myanmar's President Thein Sein prompted the US to begin to roll back sanctions in July last year.

Despite these reforms Suu Kyi used her speech on Tuesday to urge Myanmar to not lose momentum in the search for democracy. "We are not yet at the end of our struggle, but we are getting there," she said. "We have passed a first hurdle, but there are many more hurdles to cross."

Clinton urges reforms

Earlier on Tuesday Suu Kyi met with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who welcomed the newly elected member of parliament.

"It's wonderful to see Suu Kyi back in Washington as a free and forceful leader of a country opening up to the world in ways that would have been difficult to imagine even recently," Clinton said.

But she too highlighted that Myanmar still had "a lot of work" to do, including freeing remaining political prisoners and ending alleged military contracts with North Korea.

"The government and the opposition need to continue to work together to unite the country, heal the wounds of the past and carry the reforms forward," she said.

During the remainder of her two-week visit Suu Kyi is expected to receive a host of awards in recognition of her long struggle for democracy. She was imprisoned under house arrest between 1989 and 2010.

ccp/jm (AFP, Reuters)