Fort Wayne's Burmese community is trying to arrange a visit to the city by Aung San Suu Kyi, the democracy leader of their native Myanmar.
Two local Burmese activists said Monday they are hoping the Nobel Peace Prize winner will travel to Fort Wayne in late September. Suu Kyi, 67, has announced plans to be in New York on Sept. 21 to accept an award from the Atlantic Council, which advocates trans-Atlantic cooperation and international security.
UTun Oo said local Burmese have been in contact with a representative for Suu Kyi, about her making a public appearance in Fort Wayne during her U.S. trip.
"She wants to come here," Tun Oo said.
He predicted the former political prisoner might attract 10,000 or more people if she comes to town.
Tun Oo said, "not only Burmese but all Americans would have a chance to honor her" for promoting democracy and liberty in Myanmar, the Southeast Asian nation formerly known as Burma.
Ko Win Shwe said Burmese residents will meet today with city government officials about the potential visit. Both he and Tun Oo said a site has not been selected should Suu Kyi travel to Fort Wayne.
Karen Davis, a public information officer for Mayor Tom Henry's administration, said a meeting is scheduled today involving city officials and Burmese representatives. But she said the U.S. State Department would likely take the lead if Suu Kyi were to visit.
"We haven't had any confirmation from her people or the State Department," Davis said.
Noel Clay, a spokesman for the State Department in Washington, D.C., said he had no details on Suu Kyi's itinerary while she is in the U.S.
"We would leave her traveling plans up to her; it's her trip," Clay said.
The State Department did say in July that Suu Kyi would be invited to meet with federal officials during her U.S. visit, according to news media reports. Congress plans to give her its highest civilian honor, the Congressional Gold Medal, on Sept. 19.
Win Shwe and Tun Oo are members of a 70-person Suu Kyi welcoming committee that has formed in Fort Wayne. The group has met at Foster Park on two recent Sundays, according to an announcement sent to The Journal Gazette.
The committee is making posters in anticipation of a Suu Kyi visit, the announcement said, and would greet her arrival with posters, flags and flowers.
More than 3,800 Burmese live in Allen County, according to the 2010 census. The majority of the state's roughly 7,900 Burmese are residents of either Allen or Marion counties.
Many local Burmese are refugees brought here by Catholic Charities of the Fort Wayne-South Bend Diocese or who relocated from other U.S. cities.
Amid gradual political reforms, Myanmar's ruling military freed Suu Kyi in 2010 after she had spent much of a quarter-century under house arrest. In recent months, she was elected to a seat in the nation's year-old parliament, went to Oslo, Norway, to collect the Nobel Peace Prize she was awarded in 1991 and visited Switzerland, France, Britain, Ireland and Thailand.
President Obama this year eased certain investment sanctions against Myanmar and appointed an ambassador to the country, the first in 22 years.