Suu Kyi cheered as she visits refugee camp in Thailand | News | DW | 02.06.2012
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Suu Kyi cheered as she visits refugee camp in Thailand

Aung San Suu Kyi visited a refugee camp just across the border in Thailand on Saturday. The pro-democracy activist has been using her first trip abroad in more than two decades to highlight the plight of her compatriots.

Hundreds of refugees from Myanmar turned out to greet Aung Suu Kyi as she arrived at a refugee camp in Thailand on Saturday.

The visit to the sprawling Mae La camp, just across the border from Myanmar, was a chance for the pro-democracy campaigner to get a first-hand look at the hardships faced by hundreds of thousands of refugees who have fled fighting in Myanmar (also known as Burma).

After arriving at the airport in the town of Mae Sot, a police-led convoy took Suu Kyi to the camp, which is believed to be home to more than 40,000 refugees from Myanmar's minority groups, including the Karen and the Kachin. Camp officials said about half of the residents of the camp had been born there.

Although she was allowed tour the camp, its administrators declined to give her permission to make a speech.

According to the United Nations, more than 400,000 refugees from Myanmar are still afraid to return to the country. The majority of them live in Thailand, Malaysia, India and Bangladesh

The 66-year-old Nobel peace laureate has been using her first trip abroad in 24 years primarily to draw international attention to the plight of her fellow countrymen abroad. She is to return home on Sunday, but plans to visit five European countries next month.

Democratic reforms

Suu Kyi, who spent 15 of the last 22 years under house arrest while Myanmar was ruled by a military junta, was released in 2010 after a reform-minded government came to power under President Thein Sein. During that time, even when she was not under house arrest, she avoided leaving the country due to fears that she might not be allowed to return.

Earlier this year, she was elected to parliament, along with 42 other members of her National League for Democracy party.

While Suu Kyi has repeatedly expressed her support for the democratic reforms introduced by the new government, on Friday she warned the international community that it needed to exercise a "heathly skepticism" about the changes happening in Burma.

Western nations have responded to the reforms and release of many political prisoners by suspending strict economic sanctions that had been imposed in an effort to isolate the military regime.

pfd / jlw (AP, dpa)