Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi called for the rule of law, an end to ethnic conflict and strong democratic institutions in Myanmar on Thursday as she began a historic first trip to Europe after decades of house arrest.
"Am I overly ambitious?" she asked, then smiled. "Well, perhaps. I am ambitious."
The audience erupted in laughter and cheers as she declared that she was speaking not as a representative of government, then grinned and added: "Not yet, anyway."
The democracy campaigner was speaking at the annual conference of the International Labour Organization, a U.N. agency. Worker and employer representatives, as well as government officials, attended the event.
Answering questions after the speech, she said she had nothing to forgive the country's military rulers for.
"In some ways I don't think they did anything to me. They placed me under house arrest, but that gave me time to read," she said with a smile, adding: "Sometimes when my schedule is very hectic, I look back with some nostalgia" at nearly two decades of being confined to her home.
She said her country, which is also known as Burma, needs "reconciliation, not retribution," as it moves toward democracy.
Suu Kyi was recently elected to parliament as her National League for Democracy won dozens of seats in by-elections. It remains a minority in parliament.
Suu Kyi said she was "concerned" about ethnic and religious violence in the country after clashes between Buddhists and Muslims in the past week have left many dead or homeless.
"Of course I am concerned, as I think everybody else in Burma is," Suu Kyi said of the clashes in Rakhine state.
"We have said again and again rule of law is essential. ... Without rule of law, such communal strife will only continue," she warned, urging that the conflict be handled with delicacy, sensitivity and "cooperation of all people concerned."
She also addressed ethnic violence in Kachin state, saying: "A cease-fire is not enough. We have to have a political settlement if there is to be a lasting peace."
U.N. special envoy Vijay Nambiar, who returned from a visit to Rakhine on Thursday, said he had seen smoke rising from the remains of houses that had been burned.
"I'd like to say the worst is behind us," he told CNN's Kristie Lu Stout, but could not say that the unrest was over.
"Trauma, fear, insecurity" will continue for some time, he warned, and said that reconciliation in the area will be "a long haul."
Violent clashes between Buddhists and Muslims prompted the government of President Thein Sein to declare a state of emergency in Rakhine on Sunday, calling in the military to help impose order.
The unrest in the western coastal area of Myanmar, which borders Bangladesh, has left 21 people dead and thousands seeking shelter in refugee camps, Myanmar state TV reported Tuesday evening.
Suu Kyi said part of the problem was the "porous border" and "fear that there will be illegal immigrants."
"We need very clear and precise laws with regard to citizenship," she said.
She urged International Labour Organization delegates to think of the people of her country as "your own people, your own children," as she described the hopelessness many young people in Myanmar face.
"Restless, directionless youth agonize over the fruitlessness of their existence," she said.
"Please encourage your governments, your businesses, your workers to build the kind of society that will build the future of our country," she said in a departure from her prepared text.
She called on them "not just to look at investment opportunities" in the mineral-rich nation, but "to judge how much potential there is for good for the whole world. ... Our people have such spirit in them."
The International Labour Organization has for years pressured Myanmar to eradicate forced labor, which it says is widespread in the country. On Wednesday, the conference voted to lift restrictions on Myanmar's participation in the organization's activities, ending 13 years of isolation.
During her trip, Suu Kyi will finally collect the Nobel Peace Prize that she was awarded in 1991, when she was under house arrest.