BANGKOK - Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi urged foreign firms on Friday to invest cautiously in fast-changing Myanmar and give priority to creating jobs as much as making profits to help defuse the "time bomb" that is the country's high unemployment rate.
Speaking during her first trip outside her country in 24 years, the leader of the fight against dictatorship in Myanmar warned against "reckless optimism" about its rapid reforms, which could be easily undone if not supported by the military.
Suu Kyi, 66, said the country, also known as Burma, faced a crisis due to the number of people without work and urged foreign companies to provide jobs and training. Their investments should not fuel corruption or line the pockets only of the business elite.
"The proportion of young people unemployed in Burma is extremely high. That is a time bomb," she said in a speech to the World Economic Forum on East Asia in Bangkok.
"Please don't think about how much benefit will come to those who are investing. I understand investors invest because they hope to profit from ventures - I agree with that - but our country must benefit as much as those who invest.
"I want this commitment to mean quite simply jobs - as many jobs as possible."
Millions of people in Myanmar have been forced abroad, many to Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia, because of a lack of jobs.
Western sanctions have prevented foreign companies from investing in the country of 60 million people, but most restrictions have been suspended in recent months in response to reforms by the quasi-civilian government that took office just over a year ago.
The Oxford-educated daughter of Myanmar's slain independence leader, Aung San, Suu Kyi has received an ecstatic welcome in Thailand during a visit that would have been unimaginable 18 months ago, when she was under house arrest under a military junta.