Thousands of Burmese migrants in Thailand gather to see Aung San Suu Kyi
Myanmar opposition leader makes first trip abroad in more than 20 years
Suu Kyi describes inequalities experienced by Burmese migrants in Thailand
When Aung San Suu Kyi arrived in Thailand, she had only her doctor and security man with her. The rest of her entourage had gone on ahead to establish operations around the country for what is proving to be a whirlwind and exceptionally busy trip.
It began this morning in the blistering heat of Mahachai, the center of Thailand’s fishing and seafood industry, a nondescript town of canneries and fish markets.
By the time we arrived, a couple of hours before Suu Kyi was due, the two stopping-off points of her trip were already thick with thousands of Burmese waiting to catch a glimpse of the Myanmar opposition leader, who is making her first trip outside the country in more than 20 years.
At the fish market, with not a breath of wind and a powerful smell of shrimp in the air, they waited patiently, clutching flags and pictures of Suu Kyi and her father, former prime minister Aung San, the man who liberated what was then known as Burma from British rule.
When she arrived it was chaos. Suu Kyi was not expected to get out of the car – her people had been told it may be too dangerous because of the crowds – but she did anyway, to the delight of her compatriots.
At the community center nearby the crowds were much bigger, thousands strong, and chanting her name and singing the national anthem. Young men, women and families mingled, laughed and sweat under the searing sun.
When she arrived she initially could not get out of the car because of the crowds and was taken down a side alley where she could get into the community center. Moments later, to an ecstatic crowd, she appeared on a third-floor balcony to tell her supporters that she would not forget them and that she would fight for their rights.
The effect was electric as her words hit home. Many smiles turned to tears of joy – such is the hope these Burmese migrants have of returning to their homeland and a job.
Inside, Suu Kyi spoke to community leaders and workers. Each told a story of the trials they faced. After 40 minutes it was time to move on, to return to the capital and a busy schedule of meetings.
She spoke to the media only briefly, saying she would not take questions but instead outlining what she had heard from her people. Her commanding presence in an outdoor public arena is only amplified inside a room.
In all, her visit lasted just about three hours. Not long, but long enough to send a very clear message that her new-found travel freedom will be used to push democracy and human rights for Myanmar harder than ever.
Suu Kyi will be back in Yangon by the end of the week. Next stop, Europe.