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Myanmar's Suu Kyi urges against exploitation of nation in transition

GENEVA--Foreign investment must help — not hurt — Myanmar's goal of moving toward full democracy, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi said Thursday as she welcomed efforts to reach out to her country as it emerges from decades of isolation under military rule.

The Nobel Peace Prize laureate said the exploitation of Myanmar's oil and gas riches was a particularly sensitive area and recent deals between the government and China are shrouded in secrecy. Western companies, too, have been eager to invest in the Southeast Asian nation as the sanctions it faced under military rule are gradually lifted.

“Any new investment that comes in because of the lifting or suspension of sanctions should add to the democratic process rather than subtract from it,” Suu Kyi told reporters in Geneva, a day after landing in the Swiss city on her first visit to Europe in 24 years.

“I would like to see a sound, effective energy policy in Burma and this should be related to the kind of extractive investments that we invite in,” she said, referring to her country by its name before the military dictatorship changed it to Myanmar in 1989.

Suu Kyi's two-week visit to Europe began in Geneva with a speech Thursday to the annual meeting of the International Labor Organization (ILO), whose campaign against slavery and child labor in Myanmar drew constant attention to the junta's exploitation of its people.

The ILO decided Wednesday to reward Myanmar for reforms undertaken so far, lifting restrictions on its participation in the organization's work that had been in place since 1999.

Suu Kyi also spoke of the plight of migrant workers from Myanmar in Thailand, calling for coordinated social, political and economic policies “that will put our country once again on the map of the positive and the successful.”

She told her audience she was “profoundly moved” by the “totally unexpected, very warm welcome” she had received as she began a five-country tour which will include a speech in Oslo to accept the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize she was unable to receive at the time.

She also told reporters that she thought French and U.S. oil giants Total and Chevron, long a target of human rights activists for their activities in Myanmar, should continue to operate there.

“I find that Total is a responsible investor ... it is sensitive to human rights,” she said after her speech.

The previous “concerns” about their support for the junta were a thing of the past, and she was “not going to persuade Total or Chevron to pull out” of Myanmar, especially when there was such a need for “democracy-friendly investment,” she said.

Asked by The Associated Press whether she could forgive the junta for ignoring the outcome of those elections and keeping her under house arrest for 15 of the next 22 years, the woman who is seen as an icon of the democracy movement took the high road.

“In some ways I don't think they really did anything to me,” she said. “I do not think I have anything to forgive them for.”

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Aung San Suu Kyi, the Myanmar opposition leader, waves as she arrives at the 101st International Labor Organization Conference at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Thursday, June 14. Suu Kyi will visit Switzerland, Norway, Ireland, Britain and France from June 13-29. (AP)

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