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Tutu hopes for "free" Myanmar in Suu Kyi meeting

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Archbishop Desmond Tutu said Tuesday he hoped to see a "truly free" Myanmar as he met fellow Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi during a visit to the former junta-ruled nation.

The anti-apartheid campaigner said he was "thrilled" to meet Suu Kyi for private talks at the lakeside mansion in Yangon where the Myanmar activist was locked up for years during her more than two-decade struggle for democracy.

"It is wonderful to be here and to see her. We are looking forward to seeing your country truly free," he told reporters gathered at the residence.

"The potential of this country is immense and we want to see the potential fully realised," he said, urging an end to ethnic conflict in the country.

Ongoing fighting between the army and Kachin rebels in the north and sectarian unrest in western Rakhine state have displaced tens of thousands and overshadowed Myanmar's political reforms.

Tutu, who said he was not planning to meet any government officials during his trip, expressed hopes that Myanmar would become "truly democratic".

The Nobel laureates appeared upbeat and amicable during the short press conference, with Suu Kyi saying she was "very pleased" to see the South African rights campaigner in person.

Tutu, who won the Nobel prize in 1984 for his role in the fight against apartheid in South Africa, was a fervent supporter of Suu Kyi's struggle for democracy during her long years of house arrest.

In September 2011, almost a year after she was released, 81-year-old Tutu flamboyantly declared "I love you!" to the Myanmar activist in a videolink talk.

At the time Tutu said he would visit Myanmar when Suu Kyi was "inaugurated as the head of government".

Since then Suu Kyi has entered parliament alongside dozens of members of her once-ostracised party after historic by-elections in April 2012.

The poll was seen as a crucial step in Myanmar's reforms under a quasi-civilian government that came to power in early 2011 and has also released hundreds of political prisoners.

Suu Kyi, known as "the Lady" in her home country, also embarked on several foreign trips last year in a sign of her confidence in the changes in Myanmar.

The opposition leader travelled to Norway in June to finally give her acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize she was awarded in 1991. She was unable to collect it in person for 21 years because of fears Myanmar's generals would not let her return to her country.

Earlier Tuesday, Tutu met former political detainees held under the previous military regime.

"He asked what we thought of the Myanmar reform process," former imprisoned dissident Toe Kyaw Hlaing told AFP.

"He also wanted us to pass on his regards and respect to those political prisoners who he was unable to meet today, and to those still in jail," he said, adding that his group estimates over 200 political inmates remain behind bars.

Tutu is set to give a speech at the American Centre in Yangon on Wednesday, according to a US embassy source.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130226/tutu-hopes-free-myanmar-suu-kyi-meeting