Key meets Myanmar's Aung San Suu Kyi
Celebrated democratic reformer Aung San Suu Kyi dreamed of visiting New Zealand during her 15 years under house arrest.
Suu Kyi met with Prime Minister John Key late last night (NZT) and took the opportunity to thank New Zealanders for their support during Myanmar's struggle for democracy.
After the 30 minute talks at Key's Naypyitaw hotel she told reporters she will come to New Zealand in the "not too distant future".
"The two countries that I would think about were Canada and New Zealand. Because I thought those places were unpolluted areas and of course I have always thought that New Zealand was rather romantic - the land of the long cloud and so on. Not to mention the kiwifruit,'' she said.
Key brought a case of golden kiwifruit as a gift. He also gave her a specially commissioned triple koru greenstone pendant.
Suu Kyi was enthusiastic about New Zealand's parliamentary system. "It seems to me that the New Zealanders have a good control over the government, and I think that's a good idea ...
"We hope ties between the two countries will be stronger as we proceed along the route to democracy," she said.
The opposition National League for Democracy party leader spent 15 years under house arrest before being released in November 2010.
As Myanmar moves from a military regime to democracy, Suu Kyi is campaigning for more freedoms for Myanmarese. She is likely to contest presidential elections in 2015.
But she told Key that reform in Myanmar will only be genuine if its constitution is amended. "It is certainly not democratic," she explained.
"Things are not yet as they should be but everybody is trying to make sure that they go the right way.
"New Zealand should really insist that if Burma is to be a genuine democracy and if the 2015 elections are to be fair, as well as free then these necessary amendments will have to be made."
Key said he will press President Thein Sein when he comes to New Zealand next month. He announced an $7m aid package in the capital Naypyitaw yesterday, most of which will be invested in a farm project.
But Suu Kyi said "people-centred" aid rather than "government-centred" help was needed. "It's not the sum, it's how it is given that's important, and we have discussed this," she said.
"We can promote local government which is very important ... we need to strengthen the regions,..and concentrate on community centred projects and of course we also have to think of woman centred projects."
Key and Suu Kyi also discussed the New Zealand government's decision to refer to the country as Myanmar - which she objects too.
"I think it is their own choice. But I have made the point that Myanmar was imposed on this country without so much of a bye or leave to the people. The people were not asked what they thought of it. One day, in the state newspapers it was announced ... I think that it was imposed on this country in a totally undemocratic way.
"I still object to it. So I will always refer to this country as Burma, until the Burmese people decide what they want it to be called."
Key was clearly taken with the inspirational figure. He said the meeting was "thoughtful, insightful and constructive".
"We see her as a person who was a beacon of democracy, freedom and hope for this country. Someone who was extremely brave, and courageous and for whom the people of Burma owe a great deal. It's been a wonderful opportunity."
He went to the meeting after a talks and a banquet lunch with President Thein Sein at his lavish 100-room presidential palace.
Thein Sein has accepted an invitation for a reciprocal visit to Wellington in mid December. He will tour a Fonterra plant and other agriculture business as Myanmar looks to super-charge its exports.
The Dominion Post