NAYPYITAW, Myanmar (AP) — Aung San Suu Kyi is no stranger to tributes for her courageous political opposition in Myanmar, but the latest was perhaps the most bittersweet — delivered from beyond the grave from an ardent admirer who was another tenacious fighter for democracy.
Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg at a dinner Tuesday night presented her with a dried, yellow rose on behalf of his country's late president, Vaclav Havel, who died in December.
The rose, embedded in a glass case, had been laid on Havel's coffin last year by Myanmar democracy activists, and was retrieved by a Czech artist who preserved it. Jiri Sitler, a friend of Havel and former Czech ambassador to Myanmar in Schwarzenberg's delegation, explained to The Associated Press the idea behind the unusual gift.
He said that in 2005, Havel sent Suu Kyi — then under house arrest — birthday greetings in a note in which he said he wanted to meet her and how happy he would be if he could personally give her a rose.
It was Havel who nominated Suu Kyi for the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize that she was finally free to accept in person last month in Oslo. She had been detained 15 of the years since 1989, and in the periods when she was free, did not risk going abroad for fear she would not be allowed to return to her struggle in Myanmar.
But reforms undertaken since last year by elected President Thein Sein convinced her it was safe to make the long-delayed journey, and she returned in time to begin serving as a member of parliament.
Havel never got to meet Suu Kyi in person, communicating only by phone and mail. However, in a column she used to contribute to Japan's Mainichi daily, Suu Kyi once wrote of her Czech comrade that "It was his vigorous and warm personality and his total commitment to the support of movements for democracy and human rights the world over that made his friendship so real and vibrant and made me feel we were linked to one another by close ties of understanding."
The 67-year-old Suu Kyi, wearing a red traditional jacket and with white roses in her hair, shook hands with Schwarzenberg and his delegation as she accepted the gift, along with a bouquet. She spoke about the special relationship between Havel's country and hers, and especially of the support Havel had given Myanmar's democracy movement.
"I am very sad that I never had the opportunity to meet him but I feel very close because his thoughts and his writings guided me during the years of struggle," Suu Kyi said.
Schwarzenberg will meet Thein Sein and other government officials in the Myanmar capital on Wednesday. Earlier in the country's biggest city, Yangon, he met former political prisoners, student activists, ethnic civil society representatives, and representatives of non-governmental organizations and ethnic political parties.
Also Tuesday, Suu Kyi said she'll travel to the United States in September to accept an award from an American think tank.
The Atlantic Council issued a statement Monday saying it will present Suu Kyi with its Global Citizen Award on Sept. 21. The Washington-based think tank says the award is meant to recognize "visionary global leaders."
Suu Kyi told AP she would travel to accept the award but gave no other details of her trip.