Myanmar's Suu Kyi to test freedom, meet supporters

AP News
Posted: Aug 13, 2011 5:21 AM
Myanmar's Suu Kyi to test freedom, meet supporters

Democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi will make her first political appearance outside Myanmar's main city on Sunday since her release from seven years of house arrest, a journey that is going ahead despite a government warning it could trigger riots.

The opposition leader's one-day trip to meet supporters in two towns north of Yangon will test the limits of Suu Kyi's freedom.

The last time she traveled to the countryside, in 2003, supporters of the country's now-disbanded military junta ambushed her entourage. Suu Kyi escaped, but was detained and later placed under house arrest. She was released last November.

The Nobel Peace Prize laureate's spokesman, Nyan Win, told The Associated Press he expected Sunday's trip to go smoothly.

"We are not worried about security," Win said. "We will provide our own security and authorities will also cooperate with us."

The brief trip will take Suu Kyi about 50 miles (80 kilometers) north of the main city Yangon to the towns of Bago and Thanatpin, where she will meet party members and open two public libraries, Win said.

More trips will follow, but neither the dates nor the destinations have been decided upon, Win said.

Win Htein, a leader of Suu Kyi's party, said the trip was crucial because it "will test the reaction of the authorities and will test the response of the people."

He added, "This trip will be a test for everything," Htein said.

After half a century of army rule, the country formerly known as Burma organized elections late last year and officially handed power to a civilian administration in March. But critics say the new government, led by retired military figures, is a proxy for continued military rule and little has changed since.

Some 2,000 political prisoners remain behind bars, more than 100,000 refugees live in neighboring countries and sporadic clashes have erupted in the northeast between government troops and ethnic militias who have been fighting for greater autonomy for decades.

On Friday, however, Suu Kyi held her second meeting with Labor and Social Welfare Minister Aung Kyi. The state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper reported Saturday that the two sides agreed to cooperate on national stability and development.

Also Friday, Information Minister Kyaw Hsan urged Suu Kyi to officially register her National League for Democracy as a party, a step that would imply its acceptance of the government's legitimacy and also allow it to legally take part in politics.

If Suu Kyi's group reaches an accommodation with the government, it could serve as a reason for Western nations to lift political and economic embargoes on the country that have hindered development and pushed it into dependence on neighboring China.

The previous military government ordered the party's dissolution after it refused to register for last November's general election, which Suu Kyi's party called unfair and undemocratic.

Suu Kyi has traveled outside Yangon since her release from house arrest. Last month, she journeyed to the ancient city of Bagan with her son on a private pilgrimage that nevertheless drew a large crowds of supporters and scores of undercover police and intelligence agents. Suu Kyi made no speeches, and the trip ended without incident.

In June, the government warned said it would not stop Suu Kyi from traveling upcountry to meet supporters, but warned her the visits could trigger riots.