/ 5 July 2011

Suu Kyi keeps low profile on upcountry trip

Trailed by undercover police, Burma pro-Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi kept a low profile on Tuesday as she visited pagodas on the second day of a countryside visit that is testing the patience of the military-backed government.

The visit to Bagan, an ancient city 690km north of Rangoon known for centuries-old Buddhist temples, is the first time the 66-year-old Nobel laureate has left Rangoon since her release from house arrest in November.

But she was not rallying big crowds after her National League for Democracy (NLD) urged her followers to stay away, fearing a repeat of a bloody attack on her motorcade in 2003 in which 70 of her supporters were killed. The NLD is banned but remains politically active.

That was the last time she left Rangoon, where she subsequently spent seven years in detention until her release last November.

She is now allowed to travel where she wants. But the government warned last month of “chaos and riots” if she sought to rally supporters and accused her of trying to exploit the public.

The trip by Suu Kyi and her British-born son, Kim Aris, was described as a pilgrimage by the NLD. She held no political rallies or high-profile public events during the visit.

She visited four pagodas accompanied by plainclothes police and NLD security, appearing calm and relaxed and telling reporters she was enjoying the trip.

She praised the general election in neighbouring Thailand on Sunday as “free and fair” and welcomed its winners, the opposition Puea Thai Party led by businesswoman Yingluck Shinawatra, sister of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

“I expect the ties between Myanmar and Thailand to get better,” she said.

One resident said the authorities had instructed trustees of the pagodas before her arrival “not to give Aung San Suu Kyi any special VIP treatment”.

Since her release from house arrest, the daughter of slain independence hero Aung San has been conciliatory in her comments about the country’s rulers and has urged dialogue.

The charismatic figurehead of Burma’s fight against five decades of dictatorship has not been troubled by the new civilian government, which is dominated by members of the previous military regime that long sought to undermine her.

However, she is still frequently criticised in commentaries carried by state-run newspapers, which act as mouthpieces for the country’s hardline rulers.

In February, newspapers accused her of provocative acts that could lead to a “tragic end” for her and the NLD.

The government said last Wednesday it was not responsible for ensuring Suu Kyi’s safety, comments that drew sharp rebukes from the United States, Australia and Britain, which said they went against the government’s pledge of reconciliation. – Reuters