HONG KONG – Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi said Monday she plans to tour the country next month in her first trip into the provinces since a 2003 political tour ended in her lengthy house arrest.
"I hope to be able to travel out of Rangoon in the month of June, as soon as I have got rid of all the work that has piled up," she said in a videolink to an audience at Hong Kong University. Rangoon is the old name for Yangon, Myanmar's biggest city.
She said the authorities have not given her any "particular assurances" about security. She did not provide further details.
The Nobel Peace Prize laureate drew large crowds when she last toured northern Myanmar, and her popularity rattled the military government. Exactly eight years ago Monday, supporters of the ruling junta ambushed her entourage. Several of her followers were killed, but she escaped, only to be arrested.
She was released last November after Myanmar held general elections in which her party did not participate, calling the vote unfair. Suu Kyi's party won the last elections in 1990 but was not allowed to govern. The junta was officially disbanded after the November elections, but the current government is still military dominated.
Suu Kyi answered dozens of questions from students, alumni and reporters in the videolink with Hong Kong University. She has been jailed or under house arrest for 15 of the last 21 years, and during her brief periods of freedom she has not traveled outside Myanmar, fearing the military would not allow her to return.
She avoided criticizing China, an important backer of Myanmar's government. Beijing provides the country crucial economic support, military assistance and diplomatic protection at the United Nations.
Myanmar could maintain neighborly relations with China while having a "friendship based on shared values of democracy" with Western countries, she said.
"I don't think we have to make it either-or. We can be friends with the West and we can be friends with China each in its own special way," Suu Kyi said.
Western nations and groups critical of Myanmar's poor human rights record had made her freedom a key demand. They estimate the country still has more than 2,000 political prisoners, and a U.N. envoy said last week Myanmar has changed little since its stated transition to civilian rule.
Suu Kyi said her party has tried hard to establish a relationship with China's government. But party members aren't even able to break the ice with Chinese diplomats at cocktail receptions, she said.
"Somehow they seem to be able to evade our people quite successfully. I wish they would talk to us," she said.
Suu Kyi ended by answering a question on how she felt about the death of terror mastermind Osama bin Laden, who was killed by U.S. Navy SEALs in a raid on his hide-out in Pakistan.
"With regards to the recent death of bin Laden, it just shows that violence ends with violence, and that there is too much violence already in our world and we've got to try do something about it," she said.