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Saturday, 22 June, 2002, 07:12 GMT 08:12 UK
Burmese opposition leader tests freedom
Aung San Suu Kyi (r)
Aung San Suu Kyi celebrated her 57th birthday recently
Burma's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi has made her first political trip outside the capital Rangoon since her release from house arrest last month.

She is due to visit the city of Mandalay, where she will meet officials from her political party, the National League for Democracy.

Her low-key but unhindered departure early on Saturday shows signs that the military government may be keeping a promise made at her release to allow her full political freedom.

Aung San Suu Kyi was placed under house arrest after breaking travel restrictions placed on her by the government.

Observers have previously said that a politically-motivated trip outside the capital would be the first true test of the regime's commitment to keep their promise.

Authorities told

The main reason for Aung San Suu Kyi's 10 day trip to Mandalay, Burma's second city which lies 380 miles (610 kilometres) north of the capital, is to visit members of the NLD, party officials said.

General Than Shwe
Burma's generals still seem unwilling to talk to Aung San Suu Kyi
En route, she will also visit the towns of Magwe, Kyaukpadaung and Natmauk.

In Natmauk the Nobel peace prize winner will visit the birthplace of her father, independence hero Aung San, who was assassinated in 1947.

A senior military intelligence officer said that Aung San Suu Kyi had informed the authorities of her planned trip in advance.

Asked if they had arranged security for her, the officer said: "They don't like us to follow them."

Religious trip

When she was released in May after 19 months of house arrest, Aung San Suu Kyi said there were no restrictions on her movement.

But since then she has only made one trip outside the capital, which was a two-day private religious pilgrimage to see a revered Buddhist monk.

Her house arrest, from September 2000 until last month, was prompted by several high profile attempts to leave Rangoon in defiance of travel restrictions.

A bid to drive south of the capital in August 2000 led to a nine-day roadside stand-off after police blocked her car. Eventually, she was forcibly returned home, sparking an international outcry.

Aung San Suu Kyi's NLD party won Burma's last election with a landslide victory in 1990. But the military government refused to hand over power, and since then she has spent long periods under house arrest.

Many observers hoped that her release would signal a thaw in relations with Burma's ruling military junta.

But so far she has been largely ignored by the regime and has met no senior generals, dampening hopes for political progress.


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