Myanmar's state media warned pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Wednesday that her planned tour to meet supporters outside Yangon could trigger riots.
The commentary published in all three state-run daily newspapers said the government would not stop Suu Kyi but appeared to reflect government anxiety over her plans. The state press serves as a mouthpiece for the government, which otherwise makes few public announcements.
Suu Kyi drew large crowds when she last traveled in the countryside in 2003, and her popularity badly rattled the then-military government. Supporters of the junta ambushed her entourage in northern Myanmar, killing several of her followers. She escaped but was detained. The army denied suspicions it organized the attack.
Nobel Peace Prize laureate Suu Kyi, detained for much of the last two decades, was released from house arrest last November after Myanmar held general elections that her party, the National League for Democracy, boycotted.
"We are deeply concerned that if Daw Aung San Suu Kyi makes trips to countryside regions, there may be chaos and riots, as evidenced by previous incidents," the commentary said. "The government has said that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is just an ordinary public member, so it will not restrict her from traveling and doing things in accordance with the law, but she shall honor the laws for the rule of law." Daw is an honorific used for older women.
Suu Kyi told reporters at her party headquarters Wednesday she hasn't decided when she would travel or other details and said she was unmoved by the media commentary.
"If they are concerned, they should also cooperate with us," Suu Kyi said.
Tin Myint, a member of the National League for Democracy, said the commentary indicates the government is afraid of Suu Kyi's popularity.
"We are even more worried about the security of Daw Suu because of the government warning," he said. Some party members fear the government will close party offices, especially outside Yangon, because the commentary indicated it had a legal basis to do so.
State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the United States remained concerned for Suu Kyi's safety and security.
"We call on the Burmese authorities to ensure that Aung San Suu Kyi is free to travel and is free to express her views and to fully participate in political activities," he told a news conference in Washington. "It's the responsibility of the Burmese authorities, in fact, to ensure both her safety and that of Burma's citizens."
Critics of the new nominally civilian government say its commitment to reform will be judged partly on whether it allows her freedom of movement. U.S. Sen. John McCain said earlier this month that he raised the issue of Suu Kyi's safety during a meeting with senior Myanmar government officials.
The New Light of Myanmar newspaper also drew attention to the status of her party, which was deregistered due to its election boycott but still operates as a social organization.
The commentary chastised its boycott and accused the party of "trying to politically test the patience of the government that shows its benevolent attitude by not taking action against it."
The party contends its deregistration by the government was illegal, but a lawsuit seeking reinstatement was dismissed.
Associated Press writer Matthew Pennington in Washington contributed to this report.