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North's long struggle for peace spurs on Suu Kyi

THE world's most prominent political dissident joked yesterday how her people had been referred to as "the Irish of the East".

Burma's Aung San Suu Kyi spoke to Foreign Affairs Minister Micheal Martin for 20 minutes and the pair discussed the peace process here.

Mr Martin said he had promised the celebrated pro-democracy leader that he would send her a collection of books on the North.

During their telephone conversation, Ms Suu Kyi told of how the British had sometimes called the Burmese the "Irish of the East".

"I laughed at that," said Mr Martin.

"We discussed how Northern Ireland had come a long way through the peace process and she asked about good reading materials. We are going to gather materials and send them on to her."

The Northern peace process was discussed in the context of Ms Suu Kyi telling the minister about the challenges facing the Burmese people in their struggle for democracy and human rights.

"She was very much clued into Ireland and has great affection for this country," the minister said following his conversation with the iconic leader.

Ms Suu Kyi, who won the 1991 Nobel Peace prize for her non-violent struggle for democracy, was first arrested in 1989.

She was detained for 15 of the past 21 years before her release from house arrest in November.

The minister said he had briefly referred to a long-standing invitation for Ms Suu Kyi to visit Ireland.

"We would love to have her here but appreciate her focus must be on Burma at the moment," the minister said.

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In March 2000, the pro-democracy leader was given the Freedom of Dublin City, and later made the Freewoman of Galway in 2005.

Both Dublin City Council and Galway County Council are reissuing invitations for the Nobel Peace prize winner to visit Ireland and receive the awards.

Mr Martin said her "spirits were upbeat".

"She was very anxious to thank the Irish people for their support and continued support," Mr Martin said.

Pro-democracy and human rights groups inside Burma are facing daily harassment, intimidation and persecution, Ms Suu Kyi told the minister.

The two also discussed the flawed parliamentary elections which took place in November and the humanitarian relief efforts after the damage caused by Cyclone Giri in October.

Ms Suu Kyi has been anxious since her release to speak to countries which supported the campaign for her release and to ensure their continued support for the people of Burma.

The minister also underlined the need for the release of all political prisoners as the first step in a process of political dialogue in Burma.

Earlier this week, Ms Suu Kyi made the shortlist for the annual Tipperary International Peace Award.

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