Suu Kyi, in Myanmar since 1988, starts world tour

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BANGKOK — Myanmar opposition leader Aung SanSuu Kyi arrived here in the Thai capital Thursday night on her first trip abroad in more then two decades.

For 24 years, Mrs. SuuKyi either was under house arrest or was 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, catching an 85-minute flight to neighboring Thailand.

With the installation of an elected government last year and her party’s own entrance into parliament this year, she can claim at least partial success for her long fight and feel the freedom to explore the world.

Mrs. SuuKyi is to spend several days in Thailand, meeting with poor migrant workers and war refugees from her homeland, as well as international movers and shakers at the World Economic Forum on East Asia.

She’ll return to Myanmar briefly and then head to Europe in mid-June, with stops including Geneva and Oslo, where she formally will accept the Nobel Peace Prize she won 21 years ago.

In Dublin, she’ll share a stage with U2 frontman Bono, a staunch SuuKyi supporter, at a concert in her honor, according to Irish media. In England, she has been given the rare honor of addressing both houses of Parliament. France’s Foreign Ministry says she also plans to stop in Paris.

The tour marks Mrs. SuuKyi’s latest step in a stunning trajectory from housewife to political prisoner to opposition leader in parliament, as Myanmar opens to the outside world and sheds a half-century of military rule. Meetings with world leaders are planned along the way as dignitaries line up to shake Mrs. SuuKyi’s hand.

The last time the 66-year-old Mrs. Suu Kyi flew abroad was a year before the Berlin Wall came down, in April 1988, when she traveled from London to Myanmar to nurse her dying mother.

Until then she had led an international lifestyle, growing up partly in India, where her mother was ambassador. She later attended Oxford, worked for the United Nations in New York and Bhutan, and then married British academic Michael Aris and raised their two sons in England.

Mrs. SuuKyi returned to Myanmar just as an uprising erupted against the military regime. As daughter of Gen. Aung San, the country’s independence hero, she was thrust into the forefront of demonstrations until the military brutally crushed the protests and locked her under house arrest in 1989.

Over the next two decades she became the world’s most famous political prisoner. During intermittent periods of freedom, she declined opportunities to go abroad for fear she would not be allowed to re-enter Myanmar.

Mrs. SuuKyi’s commitment to the cause came at high personal cost. In 1999, she stayed in Myanmar even as her husband was dying of cancer in England. They last saw each other in 1995, after which the junta denied Aris a visa.

After her release from house arrest in November 2010, Mrs. SuuKyi had an emotional reunion with her younger son, Kim Aris, when the junta gave him a visa after a decade-long separation.

The English leg of Mrs. SuuKyi’s trip is bound to include some family time. She will celebrate her 67th birthday on June 19 while in England, where Kim Aris lives.

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