|The last time Suu Kyi travelled into the countryside to meet supporters, assailants ambushed her entourage [AFP]|
Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has made her first political trip outside the nation’s main city since her release from seven years of house arrest.
Suu Kyi’s trip to meet supporters in two towns north of Yangon was going ahead peacefully on Sunday, despite a government warning that it could trigger riots.
The last time Suu Kyi travelled into the countryside to meet supporters in 2003, assailants ambushed her entourage in an attack that led to her being detained and later placed under a long house arrest from which she was released last November.
In the town of Bago, located about 80km north of Yangon, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate greeted more than 300 supporters as crowds shouted “Long Live Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.”
Maw Thuza, a 35-year-old woman watching the scene, said: “I can die happily now that I’ve seen her.”
Suu Kyi was travelling in a three-car convoy followed by about 27 more vehicles, filled mostly with journalists and supporters.
Some people stood along the roadsides to wave as she passed.
Security agents, with wireless microphones protruding from their civilian clothes, monitored the visit.
In June, the government said that it would not stop Suu Kyi from travelling upcountry to meet supporters, but warned that the visits could cause violence.
Suu Kyi was also to visit political supporters in the nearby town of Thanatpin and open a public library, Nyan Win, her spokesman said.
More trips will follow, but neither the dates nor the destinations have been decided, Win said.
Win Htein, a leader of Suu Kyi’s party, said the trip was crucial because it “will test the reaction of the authorities and will test the response of the people”.
“This trip will be a test for everything,” Htein said.
After half a century of army rule, the country formerly known as Burma organised elections late last year and officially handed power to a civilian administration in March.
But critics say the new government, led by retired military figures, is a proxy for continued military rule and that little has changed.
About 2,000 political prisoners remain behind bars, more than 100,000 refugees live in neighbouring countries and sporadic clashes have erupted in the northeast between government troops and ethnic armed groups who have been fighting for greater autonomy for decades.
On Friday, Suu Kyi held her second meeting with Labour and Social Welfare Minister Aung Kyi, opening a rare channel of dialogue between the two sides.
The state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper reported on Saturday that the two sides agreed to co-operate on national stability and development.
Also on Friday, Information Minister Kyaw Hsan urged Suu Kyi to officially register her National League for Democracy as a party, a step that would imply its acceptance of the government’s legitimacy and also allow it to legally take part in politics.
If Suu Kyi’s group reaches an accommodation with the government, it could serve as a reason for Western nations to lift political and economic embargoes on the country that have hindered development and pushed it into dependence on neighbouring China.
In 1990, Suu Kyi led her party to a landslide election win that was never recognised by Myanmar’s military rulers.
The previous military government ordered the party’s dissolution after it refused to register for last November’s general election, which Suu Kyi’s party called unfair and undemocratic.
Suu Kyi has travelled outside Yangon since her release from house arrest.
Last month, she journeyed to the ancient city of Bagan with her son on a private pilgrimage that nevertheless drew a large crowd of supporters and scores of undercover police and intelligence agents.
Suu Kyi made no speeches, and the trip ended without incident.