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US top civilian honour for Suu Kyi

The US House of Representatives passes a resolution to award Myanmar's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi the Congressional Gold Medal.

world Updated: Dec 18, 2007 21:23 IST

The US House of Representatives has passed a resolution to award Myanmar's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian award in America.

Supporters of the legislation, which passed 400-0, made clear the award was meant to send a message to the military leaders in Myanmar, who have suppressed political freedoms in that country and stampeded the recent pro-democracy protests.

By honouring Suu Kyi, said Democrat Joseph Crowley, who had moved the resolution in the House early this month along with Republican Don Manzulo, "we will continue to pressure the junta to release her and bring freedom and democracy to the people of Burma".

Suu Kyi, 62, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, has been detained for 12 of the past 18 years. Her party won elections in 1990 but the military junta refused to cede power, placing her under house arrest.

"Her work and dedication to the cause of freedom and individual liberty has earned her recognition throughout the world, including the Nobel Peace Prize. Suu Kyi's passionate and nonviolent commitment to a free democratic Burma has won the hearts and minds of the Burmese people. Today, the US House of Representatives showed her and the world that she has also won the hearts and minds of the US Congress," Crowley said, soon after the resolution was passed.

The Senate must also approve the legislation. The passage of the resolution was welcomed by the Myanmarese community in the US.

"This award will generate major international attention for Suu Kyi, and further increase global resolve for her necessary, immediate and unconditional release," said Aung Din, executive director of the US Campaign for Burma.

"It is time for the world to press for a meaningful and time-bound process of achieving democracy and national reconciliation in Burma," he said.

The Congressional Gold Medal has only ever been bestowed on a few non-US personalities, including Mother Teresa, Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama.

The honour to Suu Kyi may earn the ire of the Myanmarese regime, the way Congressional Gold Medal to the Dalai Lama - the ceremony in October was attended by President George W Bush had upset China.