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Suu Kyi addresses Burmese migrants on historic Thai trip

By Hilary Whiteman, CNN
updated 2:38 PM EDT, Wed May 30, 2012
  • Aung San Suu Kyi addresses crowds outside a Burmese migrants' center in Thailand
  • Myanmar opposition leader is on her first trip outside the country in more than 20 years
  • Onlookers climbed onto rooftops ahead of her speech in Mahachai, southwest of Bangkok
  • Suu Kyi told them she would try her best to look after migrant workers' rights

(CNN) -- Some cried and others cheered in emotional scenes as pro-democracy campaigner Aung San Suu Kyi addressed thousands of Burmese migrants Wednesday on the outskirts of the Thai capital Bangkok.

It's the first time the Myanmar opposition leader has been outside the country, also known as Burma, in more than two decades after a long period of detention by the ruling military junta.

Burmese migrant workers dream of return home

Several thousand people gathered to hear her speak, many of whom had spent years living in exile to escape poverty and the country's oppressive regime.

From a balcony high above the crowd, Suu Kyi said that the onus was on the government of Myanmar and Burmese people everywhere to build a new country to encourage their return.

Suu Kyi makes historic visit to Thailand

"Everybody has a responsibility. They too [Burmese workers] have a responsibility and we too have a responsibility to create the kind of country to which all our people can return, whenever they wish too."

Suu Kyi historic arrival in Bangkok

The peaceful freedom fighter

Suu Kyi addressed the inequalities experienced by Burmese migrants in Thailand, who rights workers say are treated as cheap labor and second class citizens.

"The laws of this land which do provide protection for workers are not always observed by everybody concerned. This is due to two things," Suu Kyi said.

"One, of course, we need to educate our workers as to their rights, by what kind of legal means there are for defending their rights because whatever we negotiate with our host government we want to do it in a harmonious way. Of course we will also be asking for help and support from the local authorities," she said.

Onlookers waved flags and photos of the pro-democracy campaigner and her father General Aung San, a revolutionary who was assassinated six months before Myanmar's independence from British rule.

Some climbed onto rooftops for clearer view of Suu Kyi, whose National League of Democracy party won a number of seats in Parliament in April in the country's first free and fair vote in decades.

Before her arrival, Burmese migrants spoke of their desire for jobs within the country which has been ruled by a military junta since a bloodless coup in 1962.

"I want to hear good news from her. I want to hear about the independence of Burma and democracy and that there are jobs available," said San Nyo, a Burmese migrant from Daw who has been living in Thailand for three years.

Another, Myint Swe, a vendor who has lived in Thailand with his wife and three children for 12 years, told CNN: "I love Suu Kyi. This is a very happy moment. I want her to say we can come home and have jobs."

"It is tough living in Thailand. We get a lot of pressure from Thai police and passport control," he added.

Within the last two years, Myanmar's leadership has eased repressive controls on the country, allowing opposition parties to take part in the most recent elections.

Suu Kyi's visit to Bangkok comes ahead of a longer trip to Europe next month during which she will make a series of key addresses, including the acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize that she was prevented from collecting in 1991 because she was in detention.

CNN's Pamela Boykoff contributed to this report.

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