Myanmar democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi called for international investment to create jobs for her country at the start of a landmark tour of Europe. She also supported French oil giant Total’s presence there.
Suu Kyi, who arrived at the UN offices to flowers and applause, appealed for the investment to help tackle of youth unemployment in her country, in a speech to delegates at the International Labour Organization conference.
“It’s not so much joblessness as hopelessness that threatens our future,” she said. “Unemployed youth lose confidence in the society that has failed to give them the chance to realise their potential. “Foreign direct investment that results in job creation should be invited,” she added.
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 delegates she was “profoundly moved” by the welcome she had received, thanking the ILO for “a totally unexpected, very warm welcome”. It was her first time back in Europe in 24 years. After her speech, the veteran activist said she believed that French oil giant Total should continue to operate in Myanmar.
“I find that Total is a responsible investor ... it is sensitive to human rights,” she told reporters. The company’s presence in Myanmar has been contested by human rights activists, who accuse it of enriching the junta. Total has argued that it contributes to the impoverished southeast Asian nation’s development.
Switzerland is the first stop on a tour of more than two weeks that will take her to Norway, Britain, France and Ireland and which will include a speech in Oslo for her 1991 Nobel Peace Prize. Suu Kyi has not visited Europe since 1988 after years spent under house arrest.
Her visit marks a new milestone in the political changes that have swept the country formerly known as Burma since decades of military rule ended last year, bringing to power a new quasi-civilian government.
Myanmar President Thein Sein has recently overseen a series of reforms. They included releasing hundreds of political prisoners, signing peace pacts with armed rebel groups and welcoming Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party back into mainstream politics.
The ILO, a United Nations agency which draws up and monitors international labour standards, has sought for years to rid Myanmar of the practice of forced labour which it says is widespread there.
In March the government signed an action plan to eliminate it outright by 2015.
Suu Kyi will later on Thursday take the train to the capital Bern where she will meet Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter. A foreign ministry statement said the talks would focus on the political situation in Myanmar, “which is currently undergoing a process of opening up”.Suu Kyi will dine with Swiss President Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf in the evening and visit parliament before heading to Oslo on Friday.