Suu Kyi Heads To Europe

Myanmar's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is expected to leave for Europe Wednesday on her first trip to the continent in decades. She's due to address the U.N. on forced labor in Myanmar, also known as Burma, receive her 1991 Nobel Prize in Oslo and visit her husband's grave in Oxford — the first time she's been able to do that since he died in 1999.

Copyright © 2012 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And let's turn now to one of the world's most famous political dissidents. Aung San Suu Kyi, the opposition leader of Myanmar, also known as Burma, is headed to Europe today for the first time in 24 years. She'll formally receive the Nobel Peace Prize that she was awarded in 1991, but couldn't pick up because she was under house arrest. She'll celebrate her rise from prisoner of conscience to member of Parliament. And she'll thank international supports who see her as a champion of nonviolent protest against dictatorship.

NPR's Anthony Kuhn joins us from the Burmese city of Yangon to preview her trip. Anthony, good morning.

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: After everything that Aung Sung Suu Kyi has been through, I mean this sounds like a really an extraordinary trip that she's taking. Tell us about the itinerary.

KUHN: OK. Well, she's already flown out of Yangon en route to Geneva, Switzerland where she will deliver his speech to the International Labor Organization, which has helped her over the years on labor issues. She'll go on to Oslo, Norway for that Nobel Prize speech. And from there, she will go to Dublin, Ireland to share a stage with U2. Their lead singer, Bono, happens to be a great fan of hers. She will go on to London, where she will deliver a speech to both Houses of Parliament, an honor that is usually not given to people who are not heads of state.

She will spend your birthday with family. She turns 67 a week from today. She'll go back to Oxford, where she was a housewife until 1988. Her last stop is in France, where she will probably meet with the newly elected President Hollande. And then she will head back to Myanmar to enter the new session of Parliament and start working on actual legislation next month.

GREENE: Getting to work in her new role as politician. You know, I wonder, Anthony, we understand that parts of western Burma are under a state of emergency right now because of some flare-ups - ethnic sectarian violence. Could this end up being a disruption for her trip?

KUHN: Well, the way she sees it is that this issue has been going on for a long time and it won't be solved quickly. It is definitely the worst ethnic and sectarian violence since the new nominally civilian government took over in 2010. And it's something you would not have seen under the old military rule of the junta, because people did not have the space to organize around these ethnic and religious issues.

So it's really, you know, an unintended consequence of the democratic reforms. They've been in a state of civil war since the country was formed in 1948, with ethnic groups that want more autonomy. And it's a reminder that besides these issues of democracy and rule of law and human rights, they have a real problem about deciding what form they want this country to take.

GREENE: And I suppose a reminder of what Aung San Suu Kyi will be dealing with when she gets home from Europe. You know, I wonder, Anthony, is her trip in Europe being covered in Myanmar? I mean, do people know about it? Does it have the potential to change her political standing and image at home?

KUHN: Well, it's not the center of attention right now. The state of emergency in Rakhine state, in western Myanmar, is sort of the focus of attention. But, you know, it is watched. I think its being especially closely watched by her government. On her last trip abroad to Thailand earlier this month, her caution to foreign investors not to get too excited and to realize that all of the reforms are reversible, I think made the government uncomfortable.

She has this right to travel now. She's got that freedom. But she doesn't want to lose it so she does have to be somewhat careful in her remarks.

GREENE: Well, though, Anthony, as careful as she is being with her image, I mean, there's expectation. I mean, there's even talk of her becoming president by the year 2015. I mean, is that a real possibility?

KUHN: That is definitely a possibility. And yet, her party is aging. She has no successor. And her party really needs to spell out a clear set of policies as an alternative to the government if they are to become a party that can compete and win in the 2015 elections.

GREENE: NPR's Anthony Kuhn talking to us from the Burmese city of Yangon, about opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Anthony, thanks so much.

KUHN: Thank you, David.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREENE: And you're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

Copyright © 2012 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.