Sarkozy tells Aung San Suu Kyi of French honour

PARIS, January 13, 2012 (AFP) - President Nicolas Sarkozy welcomed Myanmar's decision to free jailed dissidents Friday in a call to congratulate opposition leader Aung Sang Suu Kyi on winning one of France's highest honours.

Sarkozy told the Nobel peace laureate that his foreign minister, Alain Juppe, would visit her in Myanmar between January 15 and 16 and make her a Commander in the National Order of the Legion d'Honneur.

"The head of state paid solemn hommage to the political courage Mrs Aung San Suu Kyi demonstrated in the service of democracy and freedom in Myanmar, notably during her many years under house arrest," Sarkozy's office said.

"President Sarkozy restated his support for the reform process underway in Myanmar and underlined France's strong expectations of the government," it said, referring to Suu Kyi's foes in the ruling military junta.

Sarkozy called on Myanmar's rulers to release all political prisoners, to build national reconciliation through negotiations with minority groups and to ensure that elections set for April 1 be free and fair.

Juppe's visit next week will be the first in Myanmar by a senior French official since Suu Kyi was released after previous elections in November 2010, after seven straight years of house arrest.

On Friday, Myanmar announced a mass amnesty of several more political dissidents, journalists and a former premier, in the latest stage of the regime's attempt to escape its longstanding international isolation.