Aung San Suu Kyi starts world tour
irishtimes.com - Last Updated: Tuesday, May 29, 2012, 16:02
For 24 years, Aung San Suu Kyi was either under house arrest or too fearful that if she left Burma, the government would never let her return.
Now, in a sign of how much life there has changed, she is back to being a world traveller, catching an 85-minute flight to neighbouring Thailand today.
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 her long fight and feel a freedom to explore the world.
Ms Suu Kyi is to spend several days in Thailand, meeting poor migrant workers and war refugees from her homeland, as well as international movers and shakers at the World Economic Forum on East Asia.
She will return to Burma briefly and head to Europe in mid-June, with stops including Oslo - to formally accept the Nobel Peace Prize she won 21 years ago.
In Dublin, she will share a stage with U2 frontman Bono at a concert in her honour. In England, she has been given the rare honour of addressing both houses of parliament. France’s foreign ministry says she also plans to stop in Paris.
The tour marks Ms Suu Kyi’s latest step in a stunning trajectory from housewife to political prisoner to opposition leader in parliament, as Burma opens to the outside world and sheds a half century of military rule. Meetings with world leaders are planned along the way as dignitaries line up to shake Ms Suu Kyi’s hand.
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 led an international lifestyle, growing up partly in India, where her mother was ambassador. She later attended Oxford, worked for the United Nations in New York and Bhutan and then married British academic Michael Aris and raised their two sons in England.
Ms 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 of demonstrations until the military brutally crushed the protests and locked her under house arrest in 1989.
Over the next two decades she 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 commitment to the cause came at high personal cost. In 1999, she stayed in Burma even as her husband was dying of cancer in England. They last saw each other in 1995, after which the junta denied Aris a visa.
After her release from house arrest in November 2010, Ms Suu Kyi had an emotional reunion with her younger son, Kim Aris, when the junta gave him a visa after a decade-long separation.
The English leg of Ms Suu Kyi’s trip is bound to include some family time. She will celebrate her 67th birthday on June 19th while in England, where Kim lives.
Ms Suu Kyi’s aides have offered few details about her trip aside from the destinations, saying only that she will pack medicine for motion sickness.
“She gets airsick and seasick very easily. She will have to take her pills to prevent airsickness,” 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 the economic forum. She has a Friday speaking slot that is bound to be the event’s main attraction.
Since Ms Suu Kyi’s release, many international dignitaries have visited her in Burma, including British prime minister David Cameron in April. Mr Cameron suggested she visit her “beloved Oxford” in June.