′The Lady′ visits Thailand, the first stop on her international tour | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 30.05.2012
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'The Lady' visits Thailand, the first stop on her international tour

As Myanmar slowly opens up to the rest of the world, the country's greatest pro-democracy icon, Aung San Suu Kyi, is making several trips after being confined for 24 years.

Myanmar pro-democracy leader Suu Kyi arrives at Yangon International Airport as she departs to Bangkok Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, center, receives flowers from supporters as she arrives at Yangon International Airport before her departure for Bangkok on Tuesday, May 29, 2012, in Yangon, Myanmar. (AP Photo/Khin Maung Win)

San Suu Ky Bangkok

On Tuesday, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi arrived in Thailand, the first stop on her long-awaited international tour. She met thousands of migrant workers southwest of the Thai capital Bangkok and promised to do her best for them.

She is also expected to meet Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra during her visit and to address the World Economic Forum on East Asia on Friday.

Suu Kyi, who heads Myanmar's National League for Democracy party, has spent the past 24 years in Myanmar, mostly under house arrest.

Myanmar President Thein Sein, left, with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh

Singh was the first Indian prime minister to visit Myanmar in 25 years

Having last stepped onto an airplane in April 1988 - a year before the fall of the Berlin Wall - she will also travel to Europe in mid-June, with stops planned in Norway, Switzerland and the UK. In Norway's capital Oslo, she will formally accept the Nobel Peace Prize, which was awarded to her more than two decades ago.

International recognition

Suu Kyi's trips come at a time when the international community is increasingly expressing its trust in the transition currently underway in the Southeast Asian country, led by 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 groups.

In response, the West has started to lift sanctions.

In the past few months, Myanmar has been a destination for UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, British Premier David Cameron, and the German and US foreign ministers. On Sunday, Manmohan Singh became the first Indian prime minister to make the trip in over two decades. He met Suu Kyi on Tuesday and invited her to visit India.

Validation through Suu Kyi

Michael von Hauff, a Myanmar expert at the University of Kaiserslautern, Germany, told DW that Suu Kyi's international tour was significant for the Myanmar government as it sought international recognition for its reforms.

"Suu Kyi is well-known all over the world, so it is important for Myanmar that she is now going out of the country and meeting international leaders," he said, adding that he believed Suu Kyi could playing an important role in fetching international recognition and validation for the reform process.

Von Hauff also said that although things were clearly changing for the better, there was still a lot of work to be done. "I feel that the reform process won't stop in Myanmar. The pro-reform forces are stronger in the government than the anti-reform elements. The only problem is that these reforms are being introduced a bit too fast. Myanmar is probably not prepared for this."

Human rights violations

Many human rights activists in Myanmar are less optimistic. They say that President Thein Sein is carrying out reforms half-heartedly with the sole aim of acquiring economic benefits. They lament the fact that 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.

Experts say it is difficult for Suu Kyi, who has so far cautiously supported the government's reforms, to find a balance between allowing the democratic process to flourish in Myanmar and endorsing the military-backed government.

Aung San Suu Kyi shakes hands with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon (L)

World leaders have hailed Myanmar's reforms

"Human rights violations persist in Myanmar," said von Hauff. "On the other hand, it is true that the government has released quite a lot of political prisoners and the human rights situation is better than before."

"It is important that 'the Lady' (Suu Kyi) goes to other countries and tells people about the human rights violations in Myanmar so that they know what is happening and what should be done to improve the situation."

Personal significance

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

"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."

In 1999, she was not allowed to visit her husband when he was diagnosed with cancer.

Farmaner told DW that Suu Kyi had been invited to Oxford, where she once studied and lived, to deliver a lecture next month.

Author: Shamil Shams
Editor: Anne Thomas

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