MAHACHAI, Thailand - Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, on her first foreign trip in nearly a quarter-century, has offered encouragement to impoverished migrants whose flight from their homeland is emblematic of the devastation wrought there by decades of misrule.
Dont feel down, or weak. History is always changing, she told an exuberant crowd of thousands southwest of Bangkok. Many held signs saying, We want to go home, and Suu Kyi said her visit was aimed at learning how she could help them.
Today, I will make you one promise: I will try my best for you, she said.
In the town of Mahachai, home to Thailands largest population of Burmese migrants, thousands of Burmas downtrodden crowded around her and chanted: Long Live Mother Suu!
I had only seen her on TV and in newspapers, said Saw Hla Tun, who left Burmas Karen state seven years ago and earns a meagre wage carrying heavy salt sacks on his back. I couldnt hold back my tears when I saw her.
After speaking to the crowd, Suu Kyi met with migrant workers who told her they are mistreated by employers but dont know their rights and have no legal means to settle disputes.
Suu Kyi arrived in Thailand on Tuesday night on a trip that shows just how much life has changed in her homeland. The Nobel Peace Prize winner lived 15 of the last 24 years under house arrest and dared not leave during the intermittent periods of freedom because she feared the then-ruling military junta would not allow her to return. Now an elected member of parliament, she will speak later this week at the World Economic Forum on East Asia.
Shell return to Burma briefly before heading to Europe for a five-country tour in mid-June. Her stops include England, where shell address the British parliament, and Oslo, Norway, to formally accept the Nobel she won 21 years ago.