Democracy champion Aung San Suu Kyi left Myanmar yesterday for her first visit in two decades to the US, where she is to be garlanded by supporters keen to discuss the progress of reforms in the former junta-ruled nation.
The Nobel laureate, who was elected to parliament this year, is scheduled to travel to Washington to meet US President Barack Obama, whose government has been at the forefront of Western re-engagement with the long-time military-dominated country.
She is also to be showered in awards, including the Congressional Gold Medal, the top honor bestowed by the US Congress, and meet Burmese diaspora groups as far apart as New York and San Francisco.
During her near three-week trip, Aung San Suu Kyi is likely to be quizzed about reforms that have seen Myanmar take tentative steps onto the global stage after decades under a secretive military regime.
“I think Daw Suu can talk at least about the reforms situation in Myanmar. She will get this opportunity,” Nyan Win, a spokesman for Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party said, using a common honorific for the Nobel laureate.
The opposition leader plans travel with just three other people, he added, and is expected to arrive in Washington today.
Despite the predicted red carpet welcome her visit is laced with potential political trouble.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s stay coincides with that of Myanmar President Thein Sein, who is due in the US later in the month to attend the UN General Assembly.
“There is a risk that she will overshadow this significant first US visit by Thein Sein — who has not yet really gotten the international recognition that he deserves for the remarkable reform process that he has put in place,” independent Myanmar analyst Richard Horsey said.
Horsey said it would be “particularly unhelpful” if the US president chose to meet Myanmar’s democracy champion, but not its leader, “which unfortunately looks to be the case.”
The 67-year-old could also face tricky questions on the treatment of stateless Rohingya Muslims after a wave of deadly communal violence in western Myanmar. Aung San Suu Kyi has remained cautious in her comments about the group, who many in Myanmar believe are foreigners and therefore not entitled to citizenship.