For the first time since the Myanmar government released her from house arrest, Aung San Suu Kyi has traveled outside of Yangon on vacation with her youngest son.
Ms Suu Kyi traveled into the countryside to visit an ancient city of temples, Bagan, where her son Kim Aris is also visiting from Britain. The last time she was there, in 1989, she made a political appearance that drew thousands. This trip, however, is billed as personal, not political, and aides have said that she plans to relax and spend time with her son.
Her last trip to the countryside in 2003 drew enormous crowds but also provoked the wrath of the military government, and she was eventually placed under house arrest.
Report & Analysis: Aung San Suu Kyi leaves Rangoon for the first time since release[Telegraph, 4 Jul 2011]
Ms Suu Kyi is trying to gently test the extent to which the new government is committed to a more open society and democratic reforms following last year’s elections, which many, including her own National League for Democracy, decried as a sham.
Still, a number of western governments seem to have been swayed by the Myanmar government’s claims that its reforms and changes are real. Germany’s federal commissioner for human rights, Markus Loening, has argued that sanctions on the regime should be reevaluated and perhaps modified to account for the government’s post-election improvements.
In an effort to sway public opinion in its favour, Myanmar has also allowed a host of foreign politicians and diplomats into the country this year, including US Senator John McCain and Australian Minister of Foreign Affairs Kevin Rudd. The US and EU have expressed their openness to re-visiting sanctions on the regime if there is evidence of real reform, and the UN has even backed away from calls for an inquiry into alleged crimes against humanity carried out by the Myanmar government.
Still, that could all change if Suu Kyi is re-imprisoned, or if she is not allowed to travel and speak freely.
Report & Analysis: Aung San Suu Kyi has to tread softly- but governments must tell it like it is [Guardian, 4 Jul 2011]
Separately, on the same day that Ms Suu Kyi traveled to Bagan, the second-ranking diplomat at the Myanmar Embassy in Washington DC defected and is seeking asylum in the United States. Deputy Chief of Mission Kyaw Win is leaving in protest of the government’s human rights violations and sham elections.
He said that following the elections, which left the military junta largely in control of government operations, he has lost confidence in the prospects for democratic reforms and can no longer continue working for the government in good conscience.
He also stated that he believes his efforts to reach out to opposition groups and defectors in the Untied States and his suggestions to the government about ways to improve bilateral relations between Myanmar and the US have made him a government target, and have put his life in danger.
He called for the US to follow Aung San Suu Kyi’s suggestion to support a commission of inquiry, led by the UN, to investigate Myanmar’s alleged human rights abuses, as well as further targeted financial sanctions against government officials.
Report & Analysis: Burmese diplomat seeks asylum in US [Washington Post, 5 Jul 2011]