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Last updated: Wed. Sep. 26, 2012 - 10:13 am EDT

Peace will take patience

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Resettled

Catholic Charities of the Fort Wayne-South Bend Diocese since 1993 has brought more than 2,700 Burmese refugees to Allen County, where nearly 3,900 Burmese live, according to the 2010 census. Here are the years with the most resettlements:

YearRefugees

2000…128

2001…100

2005…141

2006…137

2007…613

2008…832

2009…235

2010…150

2011…132

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The message was about hope and change. And there was a reference to President Obama to boot.

Two women stood on the floor of Memorial Coliseum on Tuesday and held a sign that stated "Please Obama, Lift Import Ban on Burma."

Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi directed her remarks at her largely Burmese audience, not the U.S. government. She did say that international sanctions against the military rulers of Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, "have been very effective" but "should now be lifted" because of budding political reforms in the Southeast Asian country.

For the most part, however, Suu Kyi pressed for patience, warning that peace in Myanmar "cannot be achieved instantly" and that the Burmese "are now at the beginning of a path of democracy." She asked for her supporters' courage, strength and energy as the National League for Democracy party that she chairs tries to revamp Myanmar's government under the rule of law.

"Revolution, I've always said, is the revolution of our mind and heart," Suu Kyi told about 5,000 people at the Coliseum. "Even though we are faced with challenges and difficulties in life, we must continue briefly and persistently, persevering."

For many, Suu Kyi, 67, is the picture of perseverance. A political prisoner in her homeland for most of two decades before being freed in 2010, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate was elected to Myanmar's parliament in April. But instead of revenge, she seeks reconciliation. As for gaining power, she told prospective members of her party: "Don't put too much interest in getting a name. Don't think about getting a place or a role but to take responsibility."

Many in the audience were Burmese refugees who have settled in Fort Wayne over the past 20 years, making the city home to one of the largest Burmese communities in the United States. She told them that her countrymen must improve their education and justice systems, build their confidence and self-esteem and put aside their ethnic differences and conflicts if they hope to reshape their homeland.

"The important thing is to learn how to resolve problems, how to face them and how to find the right answers through discussion and debate, through negotiation and compromise. This is what democracy means," said the daughter of Aung San, who helped Burma gain its independence from Great Britain before he was assassinated by rivals in 1947.

Suu Kyi's comments drew frequent applause, cheers and a couple of chants that translated roughly to "have good health, Suu Kyi." She gave part of her speech in Burmese and answered most of the audience's written questions in her native language.

Suu Kyi repeatedly stressed that her freedom and election to parliament, and the government's gradual introduction of democratic practices, are only a start.

"I have to remind everybody that we are now at the most important and most delicate juncture," Suu Kyi said. "Many people seem to imagine that we've made it through to democracy. It's nothing like that at all.

"We're just at the beginning of the road, and in some ways this is going to be the most difficult period because now we have to sort out what is really necessary and what is real progress from what seems to be progress but is not really so. … We need to raise people's awareness with regard to the situation in Burma now more than ever.

"Everything is far more subtle. Everything is far more difficult to sort out. … You must not just look at the surface of things. In the end, real progress must be reflected in the improvement of the lives of ordinary people."

Asked what kind of characteristics a good leader needs, Suu Kyi said: "Honesty is the most important one, especially in a democratic country, where it is so easy for those who play to the media to come to the fore. And that is something that you must be careful about. A populist leader is not the same as a good leader. I hope you'll keep that in mind."

Before her speech, Mayor Tom Henry proclaimed from the Coliseum stage that Tuesday was Aung San Suu Kyi Day.

"This is truly a tremendous experience for the residents and visitors to our city," Henry said.

IPFW Chancellor Vicky Carwein called Suu Kyi "a great teacher. Her words and work offer lessons of peace and perseverance, dedication and democracy, leadership and a life of service."

UTun Oo, leader of the Suu Kyi welcoming committee, told Suu Kyi, "We unequivocally and strongly support you, and we will unwaveringly continue to support you."

He described her as "a courageous, admirable and exemplary leader" and forecast that Burma will replace Myanmar as the nation's name again.

Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., told Suu Kyi: "Your life, your words have been an inspiration to millions around the world. The sacrifices you have made to free your people extended beyond the freedom that they are now achieving in your country, Burma, and they have extended around the world."

Referring to the Coliseum audience, Coats said to Suu Kyi, "These are your people, and they have made wonderful contributions" to Fort Wayne.

Later, Suu Kyi replied: "Senator Coats referred to the people here as 'my people.' But I would like to say they are our people. …"

The rest of her comment was drowned out by applause.

bfrancisco@jg.net


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