Aung San Suu Kyi: I never hated the Burmese army

Aung San Suu Kyi
Aung San Suu Kyi
CBS News

(CBS News) Aung San Suu Kyi, 67, has been imprisoned by the military dictatorship in her homeland of Burma -- one of the most repressive countries on Earth.

Her struggle for democracy and human rights there has led to reform. This weekend, she was allowed to go to Norway to accept the Nobel Peace Prize she won two decades ago.

Suu Kyi gave a rare interview to CBS News anchor Pelley.

The democracy activist said there was never a time she thought of leaving or giving up.

Maybe she was bound by her family name. Her father Aung Sun liberated the country from the British and the Japanese, but was assassinated when his daughter was two years old.

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Suu Kyi spent nearly half her life in Britain, where she married and raised two sons. But in 1988 she went to Burma to care for her sick mother, and that same week the dictatorship gunned down hundreds of protesters in the streets.

Suu Kyi stayed to lead a non-violent democracy movement. For 25 years, she was in prison or under house arrest. Always free to leave Burma, as long as she never returned. She chose imprisonment -- even as her husband was dying of cancer in England. Like Nelson Mandela, her confinement kept the movement alive, and democracy is taking root.

Pelley: Why did you become involved in the struggle back in 1988?

Suu Kyi: Because I thought that this is a time when we should all join in the struggle. It was the right time for everybody to unite, to call for a chance in our country.

Pelley: You chose to stay in Burma during a very difficult time when your husband was dying of cancer. And I wonder why you made that choice.

Suu Kyi: I made the choice in 1988 when I decided to take part in the struggle for democracy. When you decide to follow a certain path, you should follow it to the end and not be diverted from it for personal reasons.

Pelley: You felt the country was more important than your personal feelings?

Suu Kyi: I think-- the country should be more important to every one of us than our own personal and private feelings.

Pelley: What was the hardest part of the last 25 years?

Suu Kyi: The hardest part was not being able to do anything to help my party and the supporters of my party when I was under house arrest. And I knew that they were going through very difficult times. And not being able to do anything to help them was hard.

Pelley: Nelson Mandela once said that, when he was leaving prison, he hated the people who had imprisoned him. But he realized in that moment that if he continued to hate them, he would still be in prison.

Suu Kyi: I never hated the people who had kept me under house arrest. I think perhaps I was in a rather different situation from Nelson Mandela because I've always had a deep affection for the Burmese Army because my father was a founder of the army. And I was brought up to think of myself as part of the military family. Later, when the military did things that were unacceptable to our people, I did not like what they were doing. But I never hated them.

Pelley: I understand that you heard about the release of Nelson Mandela on the radio while you were imprisoned in your own home.

Suu Kyi: That's right.

Pelley: Was that inspirational to you?

Suu Kyi: It was encouraging that struggle, if it's the right kind of struggle, it does pay off in the end.

Pelley: Were you ever afraid?

Suu Kyi: No, I was never afraid. There was nothing to be afraid of. They kept me confined, but they kept me well.

Pelley: And so you felt that you were not in jeopardy.

Suu Kyi: I never thought that I was.

Pelley: When will you know that Burma is free?

Suu Kyi: Now, that is a difficult question. It's not for me to know. I think when the people in Burma stop thinking about whether or not they're free, it'll mean that they're free.

Pelley: What is it about you that's unbreakable?

Suu Kyi: I don't think of myself as unbreakable. Perhaps I'm just rather flexible and adaptable.