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Suu Kyi to make first foreign trip since 1988

19-Apr-2012 Intellasia | AFP | 7:29 AM

Aung San Suu Kyi plans to visit Britain and Norway as part of her first trip outside Myanmar in 24 years, her party said Wednesday, in the latest sign of her confidence in the country’s reforms.

The Nobel laureate, who was elected to parliament in landmark April 1 by-elections, will embark on an international trip in mid-June and is “hoping to go to other countries”, her party spokesman Nyan Win told AFP.

“It will be her first trip since 1988, when she returned to Myanmar,” he said, referring to the year that Suu Kyi was thrust into the limelight as protests broke out against the junta while she was visiting her homeland to care for her sick mother.

Suu Kyi, who grew to embody Myanmar’s struggle for democracy, has not set foot outside Myanmar since, fearing that the ruling generals would prevent her from returning to the impoverished country, where she was locked up for most of the past two decades.

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi speaks during a visit to Kawhmu outside Yangon on April 17. Suu Kyi plans to visit Britain and Norway as part of her first trip outside Myanmar in 24 years, her political party has said. (AFP)

Nyan Win said the visit to Britain, where she lived for years with her family, will include a trip to Oxford, her former university town.

Suu Kyi, whose British academic husband Michael Aris died in 1999 while she remained imprisoned in her crumbling Yangon mansion, is also expected to see her two sons during the trip, which will last around seven days.

The Norwegian foreign ministry on Wednesday announced that she would travel to Oslo to finally accept in person the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize she won for her peaceful struggle for democracy.

“She will give her Nobel lecture at Oslo City Hall (where the award ceremony is held each year),” the Nobel Institute’s events manager Sigrid Langebrekke told AFP.

Suu Kyi’s decision to venture out of Myanmar is the latest sign of change in Myanmar, which is opening to the world after almost half a century of repressive junta rule and isolation from the West.

Experts say the move is the clearest sign yet of her confidence in a new regime led by President Thein Sein, a former general, who began a sweeping programme of reforms after coming to power last year.

The changes have taken many observers by surprise and have included her National League for Democracy (NLD) party being welcomed into the mainstream, the freeing hundreds of political prisoners and the signing of ceasefire deals with many ethnic rebels.

The NLD won 43 of the 45 parliamentary seats available in the by-election, although it does not threaten the overwhelming majority held by the army-backed ruling party and the military.

Suu Kyi, who is expected to take her seat in the Naypyidaw legislature on April 23, is thought to have had any restrictions on her foreign travel lifted with her election.

Myanmar officials said the democracy activist has applied for a passport to travel but that it has not yet been granted.

British Prime Minister David Cameron invited Suu Kyi for a June visit to Britain during landmark talks in Myanmar last week that saw the pair issue a joint call for European sanctions, except an arms embargo, to be suspended.

Suu Kyi said she would not have been able to even consider such an offer two years ago, but was now “able to say perhaps, and that is great progress”.

A Foreign Office spokesman said Britain had not received a firm response from Suu Kyi about the trip, telling AFP: “We very much hope she can come but we are waiting for her to confirm.”

The West has begun to intensify its lifting of tough sanctions against Myanmar following the by-elections, which were hailed as a step towards democracy.

The 27-nation European Union is set to deliberate on its punitive measures on April 23 and the call from Suu Kyi and Cameron is seen as a precursor to a widespread re-evaluation of EU policy.

Suu Kyi, who was released from house arrest days after a controversial election in 2010, has long said she would try to make her first trip abroad to Norway, which lifted its economic sanctions against Myanmar on Sunday.

Her husband and two sons accepted the Nobel medal on her behalf in Oslo in 1991.

Suu Kyi’s party won elections in 1990, while she was locked up, but the ruling junta never recognised the result. -By Hla Hla Htay



Category: Regional

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