Parma (AsiaNews) - Peace and unity are the "challenges" Burma must face in the near future. In order to reach those goals, "it is necessary for the notion of equality to take root" in the country, said Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi who spoke to AsiaNews during her visit today in Parma, where she was awarded honorary citizenship. During her stay, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate visited the city's cathedral and the baptistery, where she prayed alongside the local bishop, Mgr Enrico Solmi (pictured). At the end of the ceremony, she gave a short exclusive interview, in which she focused on Burma's most urgent problems and outlined her political programme ahead of Myanmar's 2015 parliamentary elections.
Back in Myanmar, a three-day peace conference got underway yesterday in Laiza, in the northern state of Kachin near the Chinese border, scene of bloody fighting in 2011 between local ethnic militias and the Burmese army.
Early indications are that the Alliance, an umbrella organisation for Myanmar's 18 main ethnic groups, wants to reach a ceasefire. In fact, representatives of the various parties are expected to come up with a joint position to discuss in early November with Aung Min, the Myanmar government's chief negotiator, in Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin State.
Peace between the ethnic minorities and the central government "is a big challenge for us," said Aung San Suu Kyi, because the country's many ethnic groups and nationalities "are very different from one another". For this reason, "it is necessary to work even harder."
"I believe that we basically want the same thing, we want to live in peace," the Nobel Peace Prize winner explained. "Hence, is necessary that the notion of equality prevail. Everyone must feel equal before the law with the same access and opportunity."
For some time, Burmese religious leaders, including Yangon Archbishop Charles Bo, have been involved in a series of initiatives to restore harmony and dialogue among Myanmar's different religious groups. This especially true given the tense situation between Buddhists and Muslims following a series of clashes and attacks against individuals and communities that left many people dead and injured and entire villages devastated.
In view of the ongoing Muslim-Buddhist conflict, the fate of Rohingya Muslims remains a sensitive issue in Myanmar, where they are treated as "illegal immigrants". Ethnic and religious factors thus compound each other, making the situation even more sensitive and explosive.
"The real danger comes from people who fan the flames of conflict," Aung San Suu Kyi said. "I am always told that I do not condemn this or that community, but this way more conflict, violence and dangers are caused." In fact, everyone must work, in her view, "for reconciliation and understanding. It is crucial that the rule of law prevails."
As a final point, the Nobel Peace Prize talked about religious leaders. For her, although they "can certainly play an important role in the interests of peace," she insisted that "it is ordinary people who must seek peace. Religious leaders can point the way, but it is the people who must go down that path and achieve peace. Everyone has a responsibility to bring about peace. "
Born on 19 June 1945 in Yangon, Aung San Suu Kyi is the daughter of Aung San, Father of modern Burma. In 1988, she founded the National League for Democracy (NLD), calling for the end of the military dictatorship in power since 1962.
In 1989, she began her life as a dissident under persecution. In 1990, despite a ban on her from running for office, her party, the NLD, won a landslide in the first free elections in 30 years, but the junta ignored the results and not did not give up power.
In 1991, she won the Nobel Prize for Peace and, on 21 October of the same year, she received the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought awarded to her by the European Parliament in 1990.
After decades of military dictatorship, the country held its first (partially) free elections in 2011.
The NLD leader was elected to parliament in a by-election in 2012 after spending 15 of the previous 22 years under house arrest by order of the military junta. This is the first official post held by the leader of the democratic opposition.
In 2015, Myanmar will go to the polls to elect a new parliament, which will then pick a new president. If the current office holder, Thein Sein, choose not to run again, which is likely, someone else will replace him.
Aung San Suu Kyi said she would run for the highest office in the land, but for this to happen the constitution must be amended.
The existing constitution was adopted in 2008 under the military junta following a sham referendum. The vote was held at a time when the country was in an emergency situation due to Cyclone Nargis.
Its provisions include articles that effectively prevent the pro-democracy leader from running because they ban Burmese nationals from seeking the presidency if they are or have been married to foreigners or if their children hold a foreign nationality.
Aung San Suu Kyi was married to Michael Aris, a British citizen, who died in 1999 from an illness, and had two sons with him, both of whom hold British citizenship.