A day after Burma's democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi gave her Nobel speech and greeted cheering crowds in Oslo, she was heading to the Norwegian fiords for nuts-and-bolts talks on her country's future.

The veteran activist is on her first European tour in 25 years after enduring years of house arrest.

Yesterday, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate planned to visit another human rights organisation that has honoured her, the Rafto Foundation based in the coastal city of Bergen, which gave her its annual award in 1990.

Her prize "for her peaceful struggle under the military dictatorship", like the Nobel the following year, was accepted by her family, as Suu Kyi feared she would not be allowed to return to Burma if she left it.


Suu Kyi, speaking about her country's broader transformation in her Nobel speech, advocated "cautious optimism ... not because I do not have faith in the future but because I do not want to encourage blind faith".

At the weekend, she stood in front of a packed hall, in which Norwegian dignitaries rubbed shoulders with Buddhist monks in saffron robes and Burmese guests in traditional costumes, to deliver her long-delayed acceptance speech in a moment of high emotion.

Commended in the original citation for her "non-violent struggle" as "one of the most extraordinary examples of civil courage in Asia in recent decades", the 66-year-old activist, elected to the country's national assembly during its fragile political transition, recalled with typical self-effacement the moment when she heard she had been awarded the peace prize.

"I heard the news on the radio one evening. I've tried very hard to remember what my immediate reaction to the announcement of the award had been. I think it was something like: 'Oh ... so they've decided to give it to me'."

In a wide-ranging, deeply personal lecture, which touched on her feelings of isolation under house arrest, the Buddhist concept of suffering, human rights, her hopes and fears for her country's future, and the importance of the peace prize itself, she said at first the news did not seem "quite real".

"It did not seem quite real because in a sense I did not feel myself to be quite real at that time. Often during my days of house arrest it felt as though I were no longer a part of the real world.

"There was the house which was my world, there was the world of others who also were not free but were together in prison as a community, and there was the world of the free; each was a different planet pursuing its own separate course in an indifferent universe.

"What the Nobel peace prize did was to draw me once again into the world of other human beings outside the isolated area in which I lived, to restore a sense of reality to me ...

"What was more important, the prize had drawn the attention of the world to the struggle for democracy and human rights in Burma. We were not going to be forgotten ...

"The Nobel peace prize opened up a door in my heart."

Talking about her motivation in a period during which she was separated from her family, and her British husband, the academic Michael Aris, died, she said: "If I am asked why I am fighting for democracy in Burma, it is because I believe that democratic institutions and practices are necessary for the guarantee of human rights.

"When I joined the democracy movement in Burma, it never occurred to me that I might ever be the recipient of any prize or honour.

"The prize we were working for was a free, secure and just society where our people might be able to realise their full potential."

Her whirlwind European trip will also see her visit Ireland, France and Britain.

- Observer, AFP