Suu Kyi on first trip abroad in 24 years


BURMA’S OPPOSITION leader began her first trip abroad in nearly a quarter of a century in Thailand yesterday. Aung San Suu Kyi went to offer words of support to refugees from her country who had fled to the neighbouring land.

The Nobel Peace Prize laureate, who will visit Dublin next month, left the Thai capital, Bangkok, to go to Mahachai, which is home to Thailand’s largest population of Burmese migrants.

She was surrounded by supporters chanting “Long live mother Suu!”

There are an estimated two million Burmese migrants in Thailand, who send home much of their wages as remittances to help their relatives in Burma, where at least one-third of the 60 million population lives below the poverty line. She told those gathered not to feel down, or weak. “History is always changing . . . Today, I will make you one promise: I will try my best for you,” she said.

She is due to speak later this week at the World Economic Forum on East Asia.

This trip is a powerful sign of how things are changing in Burma and Ms Suu Kyi’s dignified, resolute defiance has made her an icon for democracy advocates all over the world.

Ms Suu Kyi spent 15 of the last 24 years under house arrest, and even during her periods of freedom, she never dared leave as she knew the junta would not let her back in. This included not venturing abroad to visit her dying husband. The 66-year-old became a member of parliament this month after an historic landslide win for her National League for Democracy (NLD) in a byelection last month.

Her trip to Thailand is the latest milestone in the opening up of Burma and it could do a lot to prompt the West to ease sanctions.

There has been a raft of reforms introduced by President Thein Sein, a general in the former military junta, which took power in a 1962 coup in the former British colony.

He also freed hundreds of political prisoners, relaxed censorship, permitted trade unions, spoke to ethnic rebels in the border region and allowed the NLD to re-register as a political party.

Sanctions have been introduced over the past few decades in response to human rights abuses and broader oppression, such as the violent crackdown on democracy in 2007, that have kept Burma isolated ever since.

Ms Suu Kyi is due to return to Burma briefly before heading to Europe for a five-country tour in mid-June.

This will include a visit to Britain to address parliament, a trip to Oslo to accept the Peace Prize she was awarded 21 years ago, and she will also attend the “Electric Burma” concert in Dublin on June 18th, where U2 singer Bono will present her with Amnesty International’s Ambassador of Conscience award.


BURMESE OPPOSITION leader Aung San Suu Kyi is expected to address a public gathering in Grand Canal Dock following a tribute concert featuring Bono and other artists during her one-day visit to Dublin next month.

Ms Suu Kyi’s will arrive in Ireland on June 18th following a trip to Norway, where she will deliver the acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize she was awarded in 1991. It will be her first trip to Europe since 1988, and only the second time she has left Burma over the last 24 years, 15 of which she spent under house arrest or in prison.

Ms Suu Kyi is due to meet President Michael D Higgins and Tanaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore during the visit. The tribute concert, which is dubbed Electric Burma, will take place later that afternoon and will feature music, dance and spoken word performances by Irish and international artists including Damien Rice, Angelique Kidjo, Vanessa Redgrave, Bob Geldof, Riverdance, and Jack Gleeson.

The centrepiece will be the presentation, by Bono, of Amnesty International’s prestigious Abassador of Conscience award . The award was originally announced from the stage during a concert by U2 in Croke Park in July 2009.

Discussing the visit, Bono paid tribute to Ms Suu Kyi’s grace and courage. “It’s so rare to see grace trump military might and when it happens we should make the most joyful noise we can,” he said in a statement. “We all feel we know her, but it will be such a thrill to meet her in person. How honoured we are that she should consider Ireland for her first real trip from home.”

The event, which will take place in the Bord Gais Energy Theatre, Grand Canal Dock, is being organised by Bill Shipsey, founder of Art for Amnesty – Amnesty International’s artist engagement programme. After the concert, Amnesty will host a public celebration outside the theatre at which it is expected that Ms Suu Kyi will make a brief address to the assembled crowd.

Colm O’Gorman, executive director of Amnesty’s Ireland branch, said organisers wanted to create as many opportunities as possible for members of the public to experience the visit, including members of the Burmese community in Ireland and activists who had long championed her cause.

“Aung San Suu Kyi’s visit is a truly momentous occasion for everyone in Ireland, and throughout the world, who campaigned tirelessly for her release for more than twenty years,” he said. “We are honoured to welcome her to Ireland for an event that will celebrate her freedom and her extraordinary life’s work to secure freedom and human rights for her people.” Announcements on further participating artists and details of the concert will be made on Tickets for Electric Burma will go on general sale this Friday, 2nd June, at 9am via, priced from €25 each. MARY FITZGERALD and ROSALIND COMYN