Suu Kyi vows reconciliation in Nobel speech, 21 years on

Myanmar's Aung San Suu Kyi on Saturday pledged to keep up her struggle for democracy as she finally delivered her Nobel Peace Prize speech, 21 years after winning the award while under house arrest.

After a year that has seen sweeping changes in her Southeast Asian homeland, Suu Kyi pledged to work for national healing but also pointed to remaining political prisoners and continued ethnic strife in her country.

"My party, the National League for Democracy, and I stand ready and willing to play any role in the process of national reconciliation," said Suu Kyi, delivering her speech in Oslo for the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize.

Wearing flowers in her hair, a sarong and a purple silk scarf, she looked emotional as she received a thunderous standing ovation in the cavernous Oslo City Hall, packed with dignitaries, royals and Burmese exiles.

The veteran activist also said she encouraged "cautious optimism" in her country's transition from military rule towards democracy under the quasi-civilian government of ex-general President Thein Sein.

"If I advocate cautious optimism it is not because I do not have faith in the future but because I do not want to encourage blind faith," she said.

Although the government has signed ceasefires with scores of ethnic rebel groups, she pointed to continued bloodshed -- conflict with the northern Kachin Independence Army and communal unrest between Buddhists and a Muslim minority.

"Hostilities have not ceased in the far north. To the west, communal violence resulting in arson and murder were taking place just several days before I started out on the journey that has brought me here today," she said.

Fifty people have been killed and scores wounded in the recent communal clashes in Rakhine state, state media said Saturday, as the United Nations warned of "immense hardship" faced by thousands displaced by rioting.

When Suu Kyi won the honour in 1991, she could not accept it in person, fearing she would be blocked from returning to the country also called Burma where "The Lady" had become a potent symbol of non-violent defiance.

Her husband Michael Aris and their two sons, Kim and Alexander, accepted the award on her behalf. When her husband died of cancer in 1999, Suu Kyi could not be by his side, again fearing she would not be allowed to come home.

Suu Kyi -- who has campaigned since 1988 for democracy in her country -- said that "often during my days of house arrest it felt as though I were no longer a part of the real world".

"For me receiving the Nobel Peace Prize means personally extending my concerns for democracy and human rights beyond national borders," said Suu Kyi. "The Nobel Peace Prize opened up a door in my heart."

This week, back in Europe for the first time in 24 years, Western supporters and Burmese exiles are cheering her along a whirlwind tour that started in Switzerland and will also take her to Britain, Ireland and France.

In Norway, she has been greeted with flowers and songs by jubilant Burmese, many with her party's Fighting Peacock flag painted on their faces.

After her speech, she was cheered by thousands of Norwegians, Burmese and international guests at an outdoor festival on the Oslo waterfront.

She also visited an exhibition in her honour at the Nobel Peace Centre called "Mother Democracy".

Addressing the crowd, Amnesty International's Norway chief John Peder Egenaes told her, "You have for years been, and still are, one of our greatest sources of inspiration. In fact, to me, you personify human rights work."

Suu Kyi in her Nobel speech called for the release of Myanmar's remaining political prisoners, warning of the risk that "the unknown ones will be forgotten".

Saying said that "one prisoner of conscience is one too many", she urged the audience: "Please remember them and do whatever is possible to effect their earliest, unconditional release."

The EU, some of whose members see Myanmar as a resource-rich trading partner for decades to come, hailed Suu Kyi's pledge to keep up her struggle for democracy.

"The European Union will continue to support her and will assist her country on the journey to its place in the family of nations," European Commission head Jose Manuel Barroso said.

Suu Kyi -- who turns 67 next week and who fell ill in Switzerland, blaming the strain of jetlag and exhaustion -- said Friday that she was on a journey of "rediscovery and discovery, seeing the world with new eyes."

She thanked all "lovers of freedom and justice who contributed towards a global awareness of our situation", telling her Nobel audience it was "because of recent changes in my country that I am with you today".

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