Democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi visited an ancient temple city in central Myanmar with her son yesterday, in a tentative first test of her freedom to travel following her release by the junta.
The Nobel Peace Prize winner, whose previously announced plan for a political tour prompted stern warnings from the regime, was greeted at Bagan airport by crowds of journalists and what appeared to be plainclothes police.
It is the first time Aung San Suu Kyi has ventured outside the main city of Yangon where she lives since being freed from seven years of house arrest last November, but politics is not officially on the agenda.
Aung San Suu Kyi did not make any statements upon arrival and headed straight for her hotel with her youngest son Kim Aris, who told reporters he was “very happy” to be in Bagan, one of Myanmar’s top tourist attractions.
“It’s my first holiday in 13 years. She also needs a break. We’re going to stay here for four days. I’m very happy,” said the 33-year-old British national, who was reunited with his mother last year after a decade apart.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s earlier plan to launch a political tour prompted a demand from the regime for her National League for Democracy (NLD) party to stay out of politics, and a warning that “chaos and riots” could ensue if she went ahead.
That tour has been delayed until the weather conditions are right, Aung San Suu Kyi said last week.
Security is a major concern as Aung San Suu Kyi’s convoy was attacked in 2003 during a political trip, in an ambush apparently organized by a regime frightened by her popularity.
While her stay in Bagan has been described as a private visit, observers said any activity that put Aung San Suu Kyi in contact with the people could have repercussions.
“Any attempt by her to travel beyond the regime’s comfort zone of the NLD headquarters and her residence is going to take on political significance,” said Maung Zarni, a researcher at the London School of Economics.
Her travels will also offer insight into how much support the 66-year-old still enjoys following her long absence from public view and an election that has left her sidelined from politics.
She attracted large crowds of supporters when she traveled during previous periods of freedom.
“It will test her popularity, whether she can still have a role in politics after being locked up for many years,” said Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a research fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore.
“It will also test the limits of the regime. She knows that the military can stop her at any time,” the researcher said.
Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd, who met with Aung San Suu Kyi last week, urged Myanmar authorities to ensure her safety on her travels.
“I believe all governments around the world would be looking very carefully at how the security is provided for by the government,” Rudd told reporters on Saturday during a stopover in Singapore.
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