Aung San Suu Kyi Arrives In Thailand For First Trip Outside Burma In 24 Years

BURMA'S democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi has arrived in Thailand for her first trip abroad in more than two decades, ending an era of isolation and cementing her arrival on the global stage.

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi arrive at hotel in Bangkok on Tuesday May 29, 2012. For 24 years, Aung San Suu Kyi was either under house arrest or too fearful that if she left Myanmar, the government would never let her return. Now, in a sign of how much life there has changed, she's back to being a world traveler.BURMA'S democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi has arrived in Thailand 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 April by-elections, is expected to meet the Thai prime minister, attend the World Economic Forum on East Asia and meet Burmese communities during several days in the country.

Ms Suu Kyi, who last left the nation in 1988 when it was still under outright military rule, landed in the Thai capital around 10.00 pm after the short flight from Yangon.

She was greeted at the airport by journalists and around two dozen of her compatriots who chanted "Mother Suu", eliciting smiles and a wave from the democracy champion, before she was whisked away by car.

Speaking to AFP before her departure from Yangon, Ms Suu Kyi said she planned to stay in Thailand "for four or five days" adding she would visit "one refugee camp" without providing further details.

Ms Suu Kyi, who spent 15 of the past 22 years under house arrest, will emerge 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.

The Nobel laureate's first trip outside Burma since 1988 comes as dramatic changes sweep the country, after decades of outright military rule ended last year.

Ms 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 Centre for Southeast Asian Studies in 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 Burmese government that its reforms, which have caused unprecedented thawing of relations with the international community and easing of tough sanctions, are sustainable.

"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 will meet Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra during her trip, but the timing has yet to be confirmed, the premier's secretary general Thawat Boonfeung said.

Ms Suu Kyi is also set to visit Burmese migrant workers in Samut Sakhon province, south of Bangkok, on Wednesday, according to local activists.

Thailand's workforce is heavily reliant on low-cost foreign workers, both legal and trafficked, with Burmese nationals accounting for around 80 per cent of the two million registered foreign workers in the kingdom.

Ms Suu Kyi is then expected to travel to the north of the country to meet some of the roughly 100,000 refugees displaced by conflict in Burma's eastern border areas.

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.

"This is a hugely symbolic but also substantive visit because it is going to mark the beginning of Aung San Suu Kyi as an international stateswoman," said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, of Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University.

Ms Suu Kyi's European travel plans include an address to an International Labour Organisation conference in Geneva 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 with her family, and will address parliament in London on June 21.

The democracy campaigner was on Tuesday invited to visit India during a meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in Yangon, ahead of her trip, and said she hoped to go there soon.

Burmese President Thein Sein, who is credited with a string of reforms that have prompted the international community to ease sanctions, has postponed his official visit to Thailand, which would have clashed with Suu Kyi's trip.

"She is a rock star in international politics so she will inevitably, I think by circumstance more than by design, overshadow everybody, she will steal the show," said Mr Thitinan.

Mr Thein Sein will now travel to Thailand on June 4 and 5, according to the Thai foreign ministry.