Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi says tough Canadian sanctions are helping her native Burma on its hard road to democracy.
Suu Kyi was speaking to Canadians for the first time through an Internet link between her home in Burma, also known as Myanmar, where she spent most of the last two decades under house arrest, and Carleton University, in a talk moderated by CBC Power & Politics host Evan Solomon.
She says Burma's new civilian leaders are feeling the economic pressure and are being pushed to reform because of international sanctions.
"Canada has helped us greatly with regard to our movement towards democracy," Suu Kyi says.
The Nobel Peace Prize winner has become a global symbol of peaceful resistance to oppression and is one of only five people to be granted honorary Canadian citizenship.
After a half-century under a military junta, Burma held elections last year and handed power over to a civilian government.
Suu Kyi campaigns in by-elections
Suu Kyi was also given more freedom and is now campaigning in a round of by-elections across Burma, also known as Myanmar.
"The way in which you can continue to help us is to keep up your awareness of what is happening in Burma," she told her audience Wednesday. "Don't be too optimistic. Don't be too pessimistic. Try to see things as they are and try to keep contact with the ordinary people of Burma.
"That is how you will learn whether or not we are making any progress under this new government."
Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy won a landslide electoral victory in 1990 but was barred by the military from forming a government.
Her party, no longer banned, is contesting 48 seats in parliamentary by-elections set for April.
Even if her party wins all these seats, it will still only have a minority in parliament.
But Suu Kyi says any success will mean the voices of the Burmese people will begin to be heard.
West cautious over reforms
Canada and others view the attempts at reform cautiously.
However, the efforts of Burma President Thein Sein received a major boost when he hosted U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in December, the first such high-profile visit by an American official in more than 50 years.
Suu Kyi says she believes her country's new civilian president is "sincere" in his intent to reform, but success depends on what the military thinks about that process.
She says there is still a "great barrier" between the military and her people. Removing that obstacle, she says, would be a key step on the road to reform.
"We are at the beginning of the road," she says. "We have been able to reconnect with our people."
In January, Burma released about 300 political prisoners, including activists, ethnic and religious leaders and journalists.
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird has greeted the move as a "significant step forward" by Burma.
Baird met Burma's foreign minister at a security forum in Indonesia last summer and stressed the need for his government to release thousands of political prisoners.
Canada opened a strategic engagement with Burma last summer that included the exchange of ambassadors, but continues to maintain a tough regime of sanctions that were toughened considerably in 2007.
That was also the same year that Canada conferred honorary citizenship on Suu Kyi.