Suu Kyi to arrive in Bangkok tonight
Myanmar democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi headed to Thailand Tuesday for her first trip abroad in more than two decades, ending an era of isolation and cementing her arrival on the global stage.
Tuesday 29 May 2012, 09:32PM
The former political prisoner, who won a seat in parliament in historic April by-elections, is expected to meet the Thai prime minister, attend the World Economic Forum on East Asia and meet Myanmar communities during several days in the country.
Speaking to AFP at Yangon International Airport before her departure at around 8:00 pm (1330 GMT), Suu Kyi said she "didn't feel anything special" about the landmark foreign trip.
"It's a part of my job. I'm going to stay for four or five days... I will visit one refugee camp," she added, without providing further details.
Suu Kyi, who spent 15 of the past 22 years under house arrest, will emerge into a world transformed -- the skyscrapers and frenetic activity of Bangkok presenting a stark contrast to her home city of Yangon, with its crumbling architecture and frequent power outages.
She is due to arrive in Bangkok around 1440 GMT, where she will be met by international media.
Speaking in Yangon after her departure, Tin Oo, spokesman for her National League for Democracy party, said it was up to Thailand to guarantee her security.
The Nobel laureate's plan to leave Myanmar for the first time since 1988 comes as dramatic changes sweep the country, after decades of outright military rule ended last year.
Suu Kyi, fearful that she would never be allowed to return, had refused to travel abroad in the past, even when the former junta denied her dying husband a visa to visit her from Britain.
Pavin Chachavalpongpun, of the Centre for Southeast Asian Studies in Japan's Kyoto University, said the visit signals "she is very confident in her position, confident with the ongoing reconciliation and political reforms".
The trip will "convey a message" from the Myanmar government that its reforms, which have caused unprecedented thawing of relations with the international community and easing of tough sanctions, are sustainable.
"Before the sanctions can be removed, the government have to earn legitimacy big time, so that is what they want from Suu Kyi's trip," he told AFP.
The 66-year-old icon will meet Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra during her trip, but the timing has yet to be confirmed, the premier's secretary general Thawat Boonfeung told AFP.
Suu Kyi is also set to visit Myanmar migrant workers in Samut Sakhon province, south of Bangkok, on Wednesday according to local activists.
Thailand's workforce is heavily reliant on low-cost foreign workers, both legal and trafficked, with Myanmar nationals accounting for around 80 percent of the two million registered foreign workers in the kingdom.
Suu Kyi is then expected to travel to the north of the country to meet some of the roughly 100,000 refugees displaced by conflict in Myanmar's eastern border areas.
She is scheduled to speak in an open discussion with World Economic Forum founder Klaus Schwab and appear at a session on the role of Asian women on Friday.
"This is a hugely symbolic but also substantive visit because it is going to mark the beginning of Aung San Suu Kyi as an international stateswoman," said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, of Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University.
Suu Kyi's European travel plans include an address to an International Labour Organization conference in Geneva on June 14.
After that she will make a speech in Oslo on June 16 to finally accept the Nobel Peace Prize she was awarded in 1991 for her peaceful struggle for democracy.
She also intends to travel to Britain, where she lived for years with her family, and will address parliament in London on June 21.
The democracy campaigner was on Tuesday invited to visit India during a meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in Yangon ahead of her trip and said she hoped to go there soon.
Myanmar President Thein Sein, who is credited with a string of reforms that have prompted the international community to ease sanctions, has postponed his official visit to Thailand, which would have clashed with Suu Kyi's trip.
"She is a rock star in international politics so she will inevitably, I think by circumstance more than by design, overshadow everybody, she will steal the show," said Thitinan.
Thein Sein will now travel to Thailand on June 4 and 5, according to the Thai foreign ministry.