Bloomberg News

Suu Kyi Arrives in Thailand in First Trip Abroad for 24 Years

May 29, 2012

Myanmar’s Opposition Leader Aung San Suu Kyi

Myanmar’s opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi smiles at her supporters in Mahachai. Photographer: Dario Pignatelli/Bloomberg

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi will visit Burmese migrant workers in Thailand today as part of her first overseas trip in 24 years.

Suu Kyi will also visit a Unilever (UNA) plant outside Bangkok, before speaking June 1 at the World Economic Forum on East Asia conference, according to a schedule provided by the Thai government. She will meet Burmese refugees near Myanmar’s border with Thailand before returning to Yangon on June 3.

Suu Kyi, who spent 15 years under house arrest, became a lawmaker this month after her National League for Democracy party won 43 seats in April 1 by-elections, a sign that the country formerly known as Burma is opening up after five decades of dictatorship. Concerns over the treatment of political prisoners and ethnic minority groups led the U.S. to ease financial sanctions without eliminating them.

“While I do believe that Aung San Suu Kyi’s willingness to make this trip to Bangkok points to her own and the NLD’s comfort with their current position, the reforms that will really count in Myanmar still remain ahead of us,” Michael Montesano, a visiting research fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore, said yesterday by e-mail.

The Nobel Peace Prize winner refused to leave Myanmar for years, including in 1999 when her husband was dying in England, fearing that she wouldn’t be allowed to return.

Myanmar President Thein Sein, who declined an invitation to attend the WEF event, took power 14 months ago and has won praise for freeing political prisoners, loosening media restrictions and persuading Suu Kyi to stand for parliament. The easing of U.S. and European sanctions, bolstered prospects for a nation the International Monetary Fund said in January could be “the next economic frontier in Asia.”

South Korea Deal

South Korean President Lee Myung Bak pledged earlier this month to increase aid to Myanmar and the two countries agreed to enhance cooperation on energy and developing resources.

Such agreements may help boost economic growth to 7.7 percent a year in 2016-2020, from 4.8 percent last year, should the generals remain in control and continue with limited reforms, the Economist Intelligence Unit said in an April report. Lawmakers are revamping the financial system and Thein Sein signed a preliminary cease-fire with the country’s largest armed rebel force in a move to end the world’s longest civil war.

“How Myanmar’s government, its people, and to some degree outsiders handle such events will do much to determine their impact,” Montesano said. “The time has come to focus on the concrete details of what is under way on both the economic and political fronts rather than to dwell on the sustainability of the reform process as a whole.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Tony Jordan in Bangkok at tjordan3@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Peter Hirschberg at phirschberg@bloomberg.net


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