Taste of freedom for Burmese icon, Aung San Suu Kyi

BURMESE democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi landed in Thailand last night in her first foreign trip for almost a quarter of a century.

BURMESE democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi landed in Thailand last night in her first foreign trip for almost a quarter of a century.

For the past two decades, Ms Suu Kyi was either under house arrest or feared that if she left the country, the government would not let her return to continue the battle for democracy.

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She arrived in the Thai capital last night after an 85-minute flight, kicking off a tour that will see her address the Westminster parliament, accept the Nobel Peace prize she was awarded in 1991 and visit Europe.

On arrival at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport, she was whisked to a car amid heavy security, bypassing a large crowd of waiting journalists.

Ms Suu Kyi, 66, is to spend several days in Thailand, meeting migrant workers as well as diplomats, before returning to Burma briefly then heading to Europe in mid-June.

Yesterday, she met Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh in Yangon, Burma’s former capital and still its largest city. He said “her life and her struggle, her determination has inspired millions of people all over the world” and invited her to visit his country.

The trip “signifies a strong vote of confidence on Suu Kyi’s part in the seriousness of the reforms under way” in Burma, said Suzanne DiMaggio, the Asia Society’s vice-president of Global Policy Programs.

The last time the Nobel laureate flew abroad was a year before the Berlin Wall came down, in April 1988, when she travelled from London to Burma to nurse her dying mother.

Until then she had led an international lifestyle, growing up partly in India, where her mother was an ambassador. She later attended Oxford University, worked for the United Nations in New York and Bhutan and then married British academic Michael Aris. They raised their two sons in England.

Ms Suu Kyi returned to Burma just as an uprising erupted against the military regime. As the daughter of General Aung San, the country’s independence hero, she was thrust into the forefront of demonstrations until the military brutally crushed the protests and sentenced her to house arrest in 1989.

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Over the next two decades Ms Suu Kyi became the world’s most famous political prisoner. During intermittent periods of freedom, she declined opportunities to go abroad for fear she would not be allowed to re-enter Burma.

Ms Suu Kyi’s aides have offered few details about her trip though they mentioned that she will pack medicine for motion sickness, a rare personal note.

“She gets airsick and seasick very easily. She will have to take her pills,” said Win Htein, a senior official from her National League for Democracy party. He said she was typically stoic ahead of her travels: “She doesn’t look too excited about it.”

Thailand was not part of the original itinerary but Ms Suu Kyi decided last week to attend an economic forum in the country. She is set to speak on Friday.

Ms Suu Kyi’s appearance at the conference had threatened to upstage that of Burma’s president Thein Sein, however, he cancelled over the weekend citing “urgent matters” at home, a Thai official spokesman said. Mr Sein rescheduled his first official visit to Thailand for next week.

Since Ms Suu Kyi’s release, many international dignitaries have visited her in Burma, including prime minister David Cameron in April.