Suu Kyi’s Thai Visit Off to Rocky Start Amid Access Restrictions

  • Thousands of Myanmar migrants miss chance to see new leader
  • Coverage of Suu Kyi visit limited by Thai military government

Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi arrived in Thailand for an official visit with the ruling junta that has drawn criticism both for its symbolism and the heavy restrictions surrounding it.

Thousands of Myanmar migrant workers hoping to see their country’s de facto leader speak at a Thai fishing town Thursday were barred from accessing the site, Andy Hall, an activist with the Migrant Worker Rights Network, said from the event in Samut Sakhon province. Suu Kyi had visited the same area in 2012 as her nation’s opposition leader and promised to return once her party won elections, which it did last year.

"She said she would come back as the leader and she would change their lives," Hall said, noting that not getting to see Suu Kyi would be a huge disappointment. "It’s the promise that she made many years ago, so she’s coming back to live this promise today."

Suu Kyi, who holds several positions in Myanmar’s government including foreign minister, is visiting military-ruled Thailand in her capacity as state counselor, a post created to get around a constitutional ban on her becoming president. She is expected to sign accords on labor and border crossings during her three-day visit to Thailand, Myanmar’s largest trading partner after China with total trade last year valued at $8.1 billion and home to millions of Myanmar migrants.

Autocratic Leader

Suu Kyi, whose party took power in April after defeating the long-ruling military in elections last year, has come under greater scrutiny as she makes the transition from democracy hero to politician. She has been criticized for having an autocratic leadership style as well as not being vocal enough about rights issues, particularly the plight of stateless Rohingya Muslims and other minorities at home.

Earlier Thursday, Thai authorities stopped a Rohingya group from holding a news conference at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand, though they released a statement critical of Suu Kyi.

News coverage of her visit has been tightly restricted, with few events open to the press. The media won’t be allowed to listen to a speech she will give Friday to Thai university students, though Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has offered to summarize it once it is finished. What the ministry has deemed a joint "press conference" between Suu Kyi and Thai junta leader Prayuth Chan-Ocha on Friday will also have limited access and no questions will be allowed.

Suu Kyi had been scheduled to visit a camp that is home to Myanmar refugees on Saturday, though late Wednesday Thai officials said the trip had been canceled "due to adverse weather conditions." They said her new agenda for Saturday was a "private program."

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