Suu Kyi′s upcoming Europe trip is of great political significance | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 19.04.2012
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Suu Kyi's upcoming Europe trip is of great political significance

Myanmar experts say Aung San Suu Kyi's upcoming visit to Europe is proof that the once isolated Southeast Asian country is finally opening up to the rest of the world.

Myanmar's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi's party confirmed on Wednesday that Suu Kyi would visit Britain and Norway in June as part of her first international trip in 24 years.

Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, has spent 15 of the past 22 years in prison for opposing the military, which many believe still calls the shots in Myanmar.

According to the Norwegian foreign ministry, Suu Kyi would travel to Oslo to accept in person the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize, which she won for her peaceful struggle for democracy.

"She will give her Nobel lecture at Oslo City Hall," said Sigrid Langebrekke, the Nobel Institute's events manager.

Reforms hailed

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron with Suu Kyi in Yangon

Cameron said he wished to encourage the government in its progress towards reform

The announcement of Suu Kyi's international visit comes at a time when the international community is expressing its trust in political and economic reforms that are being carried out in the Southeast Asian country under President Thein Sein.

Signs of a thaw between the West and Myanmar began to emerge last year when the former general Thein Sein embarked on a series of political reforms, releasing many political prisoners and signing ceasefire deals with many ethnic rebels.

In response, Western nations are beginning to lift sanctions on Myanmar. Last week, British Prime Minister David Cameron held talks with both Thein Sein and Suu Kyi on the first visit to the country by a top Western leader for decades. Cameron hailed the Burmese government's efforts towards democratization.

Do they mean what they say?

Dr. Gerhard Will, a Berlin-based Southeast Asia expert, told DW that Myanmar was finally opening up to the rest of the world.

"I think the Myanmar government is sincere in implementing political reforms, but the question is can they really implement them? Wanting to implement the reforms is one thing and to have a structure in place for that is another. There is a lack of technical expertise in Myanmar to implement these reforms," said Will.

Suu Kyi speaks to the media as she tours polling centers

Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy swept the April 2012 by-elections

By allowing Suu Kyi to travel abroad, he added, the Burmese government wanted to convey to the world that they meant what they said.

According to Will, the European Union and the German government are pleased with political changes in Myanmar. "There is a great deal of willingness in Germany to assist Myanmar government in carrying out reforms."

But many human rights activists in Myanmar say that President Thein Sein is carrying out reforms half-heartedly with a sole aim to get economic benefits. They say hundreds of political prisoners are still languishing in Burmese jails, and that the government is not fulfilling its promise of giving rights to ethnic minorities.

Personal significance of the visit

Marc Farmaner of the Burma Campaign UK told DW that Suu Kyi's planned visit carried both personal and political significance.

Despite her late husband's cancer diagnosis, she was not allowed to visit him on his death bed.

"Aung San Suu Kyi will be able to return to the UK where she has friends and family. She was stopped from traveling abroad because of the fear that she would not be allowed back in the country."

Aung San Suu Kyi with President Thein Sein

Critics say Thein Sein's reforms are aimed at getting economic benefits from the West

Farmaner told DW that Suu Kyi had been invited at the Oxford, her former university town, to deliver a lecture. "She is expected to travel to Norway first ... Then she will come to the UK. She is expected to meet the British Prime Minister and other government officials."

"Sanctions worked"

Farmaner said that the Western sanctions on Myanmar forced the country's military to initiate democratic reforms.

"For years there were arguments about sanctions - whether they were working or not. But now we know that they were working. There was constant pressure on Burma, and they finally realized that they had to make some political changes if they wanted to get investments in the country."

Myanmar's powerful military generals had finally realized that 150 years ago, Burma was a growing colonial power and that now it had become one of the poorest countries in Southeast Asia.

Author: Shamil Shams
Editor: Sarah Berning

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