First leg of ‘freedom tour’ for Suu Kyi

BURMESE opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is today in the Thai capital Bangkok – on a visit seen as a sign of how much political life under her home country’s military regime has changed.

For 24 years, she was either under house arrest or too fearful that if she left Burma, the government would never let her return.

With the installation of an elected government last year, and her party’s own entrance into parliament this year, she can claim at least partial success for greater openness.

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Suu Kyi will spend several days in Thailand, meeting migrant workers and war refugees from her homeland, as well as world leaders at the World Economic Forum on East Asia, where she is due to speak on Friday.

She will return to Burma briefly and head to Europe in mid-June.

Her stops will include Oslo – to accept formally the Nobel Peace Prize she won 21 years ago.

In Dublin, she will share a stage with U2 frontman Bono, a staunch supporter, at a concert in her honour. In the UK, she will address both houses of Parliament. France’s Foreign Ministry says she also plans a stop in Paris.

The tour marks Suu Kyi’s latest step in a path from housewife to political prisoner to opposition leader in Parliament, as Burma opens and sheds 50 years of military rule.

The last time the 66-year-old 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 an international lifestyle, growing up partly in India, where her mother was ambassador. She went to Oxford University, worked for the United Nations in New York and Bhutan and then married UK academic Michael Aris and raised their two sons in the UK.

Suu Kyi returned to Burma just as an uprising erupted against the military regime.

As daughter of General Aung San, the country’s independence hero, she was thrust into the forefront until the military brutally crushed the protests and put her under house arrest in 1989.