Aung San Suu Kyi visits Burmese migrants in Thailand

Large crowds cheered as the pro-democracy leader addressed Burmese migrant workers

Aung San Suu Kyi vowed to help Burmese migrant workers, as she addressed cheering crowds in Thailand on her first trip outside Burma since 1988.

Crowds of people, some gripping "We want to go home" posters, greeted the democracy leader in an area south of Bangkok where many migrants work.

She arrived on Tuesday and will attend the World Economic Forum on Friday.

For the past 20 years she has been either detained or afraid if she left Burma she would not be able to return.

But recent reforms led to her election to parliament last month, and she is confident she will be allowed back into the country. She was given a passport in early May.

At the scene

For one manic morning a street in Mahachai, just outside Bangkok, filled with Burmese migrants waving flags and singing pro-democracy songs.

"I'm here but I feel like I'm in Burma," Aung San Suu Kyi said with a smile, as she addressed the crowd from a balcony. "Aung San Suu Kyi - democracy!" they chanted back.

For almost all, this was their first chance to see the woman who came to embody Burma's long struggle against military dictatorship.

Mahachai is a hub for processing and canning seafood, and the factories employ tens of thousands of Burmese workers. Most came to escape dire economic conditions back home. Once in Thailand, they had little choice but to accept the lowest paid and least secure jobs.

One man said he earned 300 baht ($8, £5) a day working in a tuna factory, much more than he could make back home. "I'll go back when Daw Suu is president," he told me with a smile.

The main event of this historic trip will be on Friday, when Ms Suu Kyi speaks at a high-powered economic summit. By coming to Mahachai and speaking to Burmese migrants first, she has delivered a clear message as to where her priorities still lie.

"Don't feel down, or weak. History is always changing," she told the crowds in Mahachai, an area about 20 miles (30km) south of the Thai capital that has a large population of Burmese migrant workers.

"Today, I will make you one promise: I will try my best for you."

An estimated 130,000 Burmese refugees live in camps in Thailand, having fled persecution at home.

Many more work in Thailand both legally and illegally, mostly in construction, factories or the fishing industry.

Generals 'value democracy'

During her visit, Ms Suu Kyi is also scheduled to meet the Thai prime minister and participate in sessions and discussions at the global forum on Friday.

After her trip to Thailand she plans to return to Burma before travelling to Europe in June.

She intends to go to Norway to formally accept the Nobel Peace Prize which she won in 1991, and will also visit the UK where she has family.

She has accepted an invitation to address the British parliament on 21 June.

It has been reported that she would also travel to Geneva, Paris and Ireland.

Kyaw Hsan said reforms were going ahead

Burma's President Thein Sein, who was originally scheduled to attend the forum, has postponed his trip to Bangkok until next week.

Meanwhile in a rare interview with the BBC, Burma's Information Minister Kyaw Hsan said that reforms were ''going ahead'' and both the military-backed government and the opposition must try to ''find common ground'' and ''work together for the country''.

''If you look at the world, the most successful countries are the ones that practice democracy,'' he said.

''There is democracy in the army,'' he added, saying that the generals were in fact ''the people who value democracy''.

More on This Story

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