WASHINGTON—Aung San Suu Kyi will begin a hectic two-week visit to the United States Sunday, raising high expectations from the Burmese-American community.
“This is an unbelievable moment for us. … It is a chance of a lifetime,” said Michael Myint Hlaing, editor of U.S.-based Burmese language newspaper Burma Today.
Rich in resources, Burma (also known as Myanmar) is among the poorest nations on earth, racked by ethnic tensions and years of repressive military rule.
After making a career of battling to bring democracy to Burma, and spending the better part of two decades in detention for her efforts, Suu Kyi was finally released in late 2010. Under new reforms, she stood for elections and won a seat in Parliament last April along with 42 fellow party members. She will visit the United States as leader of the opposition party, the National League of Democracy (NLD).
Myint Hlaing believes Suu Kyi’s trip will be a unifying force for Burmese, reminding them of what is needed to rebuild the country.
“She is going to mentally and physically empower all those people to work together,” he said.
The 67-year-old Nobel laureate will begin her tour in Washington, D.C., receiving America’s highest civilian award, the Congressional Gold Medal, at a reception at the Capitol building on Sept. 19.
In a mix of formal events for Western audiences and large communal meetings with Burmese-Americans, Suu Kyi will also visit New York, Fort Wayne in Indiana, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.
“She has an incredible schedule, nearly a hundred engagements over a couple of weeks,” Kurt Campbell, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, told a forum in D.C. this week. “We are doing our best to sustain that. We are thrilled by it.”
She is going to mentally and physically empower all those people to work together.
—Michael Myint Hlaing, editor, Burma Today
Some in the Burmese community are wary of the attention she is receiving; worried that the “flowery diplomacy” is distracting international attention from the human rights abuses and repression that still exists in the country.
“It’s fine; it’s good. She has to get out and meet with the public, but people are still suffering, we can’t forget about that,” said Myra Dahgaypaw, spokeswoman for U.S. Campaign for Burma.
Dahgaypaw, a member of the Karen ethnic minority, lives in the United States after losing both parents in a Burmese military attack.
Campbell acknowledges that challenges still exist, but that compared to a year and half ago, a lot of progress had been made.
“Hopes have been raised and we can’t let there be a big gap between hope and the challenges that obviously exist on the ground,” he said.
Burmese President Thein Sein will also visit the United States the week following Suu Kyi to attend the United Nations Summit in New York. A result of an order by President Obama to lift visa restrictions on the Burmese leadership, the visit is the first for Thein Sein as Burma’s president.
“We are very supportive of his engagements, we support the efforts that he has taken for reform,” Campbell said.
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