Democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi was scheduled to arrive in Thailand late last night for her first trip abroad in more than two decades, ending an era of isolation and cementing her arrival on the global stage.
The former political prisoner, who won a seat in parliament in historic by-elections last month, 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.
Aung San Suu Kyi, who spent 15 of the past 22 years under house arrest, emerges 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.
Her 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.
Aung San 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 Center for Southeast Asian Studies at 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 an unprecedented thawing of relations with the global community and easing of tough sanctions, are sustainable, he said.
“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 said.
The 66-year-old icon is scheduled to meet Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra during her trip, but the timing has yet to be confirmed, Yingluck’s secretary general Thawat Boonfeung said.
Aung San Suu Kyi is also set to visit Burmese migrant workers in Samut Sakhon Province today, according to local activists.
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.
Her European travel plans include an address to an International Labour Organization conference in Geneva, “Switzerland, 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.