BANGKOK - Emerging from two decades of imprisonment and personalsacrifice, Myanmar's democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi is finallymaking her debut on the world stage as an elected politician. It is a remarkable development for the Nobel laureate, who burstonto Myanmar's political scene in the late 1980s but was kept as aprisoner in her own home by the country's generals for most of thepast 22 years. Suu Kyi's struggle against dictatorship brought her internationalfame, but concerns that she would never be allowed to return sawher refuse to travel abroad even when her dying husband was denieda visa to visit her. Her first forays overseas in 24 years, with visits to Thailand andEurope scheduled, are the latest sign of confidence from theveteran activist, who was elected to parliament in April in theculmination of dramatic reforms introduced since direct army ruleended last year. The opposition leader, who attracted huge crowds on the campaigntrail, has shown that her appeal within Myanmar was undimmed by theyears under house arrest in her crumbling Yangon mansion. |
Suu Kyi has taken an increasingly global role as Myanmar sheds itspariah status, meeting top world dignitaries in Yangon andencouraging an easing of Western economic sanctions. Foreign travel will give her greater access to a global communityeager to see her in person and allow her to meet ordinary people aswell as world leaders. Suu Kyi, released from seven straight years of house arrest justdays after controversial November 2010 elections that weredismissed as a sham by the West, was issued with a passport soonafter winning her parliamentary seat. Her European travel plans include a trip to an International LabourOrganization conference in Geneva on June 14, followed two dayslater by a long-delayed visit to Oslo to make her acceptance speechfor winning the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize.
She also intends to travel to Britain, where she lived for yearswith her family, and has been given the rare honour of addressingthe country's parliament. Suu Kyi's move to mainstream politics is the latest chapter in thelife of a woman who was thrust into the role of national heroinealmost by accident. The daughter of Myanmar's independence hero General Aung San lefther homeland as a child and studied in Britain before marryingBritish academic Michael Aris, with whom she had two sons. But when she returned to Yangon in 1988 to nurse her sick mother,protests erupted against the military, which ended with a brutalcrackdown that left at least 3,000 people dead.
She proved to be a charismatic orator and took a leading role inthe pro-democracy movement, delivering speeches to crowds ofhundreds of thousands. Alarmed by the support she commanded, the generals ordered herfirst stint of house arrest in 1989. However, she remained a figurehead for the National League forDemocracy, which swept 1990 elections by a landslide but was neverallowed to take power. A year later she won the Nobel, elevating her to a profile similarto that enjoyed by Nelson Mandela as one of the world's leadingvoices against tyranny. Yet her struggle for her country has come at a high personal cost:Suu Kyi was unable to see Aris before his death from cancer in1999.
She has yet to define her new position in Myanmar, although she hasruled out joining the government of President Thein Sein, a formergeneral credited with initiating reforms. "There is a big question about what kind of role she will playpolitically in the parliament as the leader of the main oppositionparty," said Trevor Wilson, a visiting fellow at the AustralianNational University. Suu Kyi herself Thursday voiced caution about Myanmar's changes,saying reforms had started to "bear buds" but not yet yield fruit,in a video message to the graduating class of Johns HopkinsUniversity in Baltimore.
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