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Suu Kyi not thinking about leading Burma – but she’s prepared

Aung San Suu Kyi said she is prepared to lead Burma’s government in 2015 if her party wins the nationwide election, but working for the present is most important now, as she wrapped up events in Paris prior to returning home on Friday from a triumphant European tour which has firmly placed Burma’s needs on the international agenda.

Suu-Kyi-at-Sorbonne-FranceThroughout her five-country tour, Suu Kyi stressed Burma’s need for more foreign aid, responsible foreign investment in industrial sectors, the need to renew the education system, and for continued democratic reforms.

“I think all party leaders have to prepare themselves for the possibility [of heading a government], if they truly believe in the democratic process,” Suu Kyi told Agence France Presse. “I think we can't wait until 2015 to see how things will emerge. It is now that is most important... the next three years will decide what shape 2015 will take.”

On Thursday, Suu Kyi, 67, had breakfast with former President Nicolas Sarkozy and his wife, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, she visited France’s Parliament and then participated in a talk with students at Sorbonne University in Paris.

Her visit to Switzerland, Norway, Ireland, Britain, and, finally, France, has been overshadowed in Burma by a convulsive sectarian uprising pitting Buddhist and Muslims in western Burma, which has claimed nearly 80 lives and seen thousands of homes burned.

Suu Kyi said the key for a long-term peace in the region is to strengthen the rule of law, have more clear citizenship laws and enforce immigration policy. Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya, a Muslim ethnic minority, have gone back and forth between Bangladesh and Burma for decades, if not centuries. Burma says they are “Bengali,” and Bangladesh says they are Burmese, while Burma denies them citizenship.

“Some of them, I'm sure, are in accordance with the citizenship laws, entitled to the rights of citizens, but who these are we have to be able to find out,” Suu Kyi said. “Communal strife, lack of communal harmony, is usually rooted in cultural and religious differences which take time to sort out. But with rule of law, immediate problems could be minimized.”

“The problem in the west is... that the border is very porous. And the immigration authorities are not always the least corrupt,” she said. “Another problem is the matter of citizenship. We need fair and strong citizenship laws which will stand up to international scrutiny.”

Suu Kyi said she has been amazed by the response in Europe she has received to Burma’s needs and problems.

“So many people from different parts of the world seem to be aware of what we have been struggling for in Burma,” she said. “I felt such a tremendous sense of solidarity with us. That has been a surprise.”

When she returns to Burma, she will almost immediately be plunged into local political issues to be taken up on July 15, when the Burmese Parliament reconvenes. Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party, while symbolically important, has only a small fraction of seats in the Parliament that is dominated by a state-backed party that is heavily influenced by the military.

Suu Kyi has forged an understanding with the Burmese President Thein Sein to work together to continue the country’s democratic reforms, which have transformed it in less than two years, since the newly elected government received power from the former military regime.