Democracy champion Aung San Suu Kyi on Wednesday began her first trip abroad in 24 years by telling an ecstatic crowd of Myanmar migrants in Thailand she would do all she could to help them.
“I can give you one promise — I will try my best for you,” Ms. Suu Kyi told a crowd of thousands who packed a narrow street in Samut Sakhon province south of Bangkok to see the opposition leader, who had not left her homeland since 1988. “May you be able to return to the country soon,” she said to the cheering migrants, many of whom held up banners with Ms. Suu Kyi's picture and signs in Burmese and English that read “Free Burma” and “We want to go home”.
The opposition leader was given a rapturous welcome in Mahachai, a seafood processing area that is home to one of the highest concentrations of Myanmar migrants in Thailand. “I am very happy and I want to cry. I feel that we will get democracy in Myanmar,” said one migrant worker in the crowd, who only gave her name as Phyu.
Ms. Suu Kyi's foray beyond Myanmar's borders is a significant show of confidence in dramatic changes that have swept her homeland since a near 50-year military dictatorship was replaced with a quasi-civilian regime last year. The former political prisoner, who won a parliamentary seat in historic April by-elections, is expected to meet Thailand's Prime Minister and attend the World Economic Forum on East Asia during several days in the country.
Ms. Suu Kyi's ventures overseas, which also include a European tour in June, are seen as the completion of her transformation from prisoner to global politician.
The 66-year-old, who spent 15 of the past 22 years under house arrest, refused to travel abroad in the past — even to see her dying husband — because of fears she would never be allowed to return.
Ms. Suu Kyi's European travel plans include an address to an International Labour Organisation conference in Geneva and a speech in Oslo 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.
Myanmar 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 Ms. Suu Kyi's trip.