|Aung San Suu Kyi ( AP-Yonhap News)|
YANGON (AFP) ― Democracy champion Aung San Suu Kyi leaves Myanmar Sunday for her first visit in two decades to the United States, where she will be garlanded by supporters keen to discuss the progress of reforms in the former junta-ruled nation.
The Nobel laureate, who was elected to parliament this year, will travel to Washington to meet U.S. President Barack Obama whose government has been at the forefront of Western re-engagement with the long-time military dominated country.
She will also be showered in awards including the Congressional Gold Medal, the top honor bestowed by the U.S. Congress, and meet Burmese diaspora groups as far apart as New York and San Francisco.
During her near three-week trip Suu Kyi is likely to be quizzed about reforms that have seen Myanmar take tentative steps onto the global stage after decades under a secretive military regime.
“I think Daw Suu can talk at least about the reforms situation in Myanmar.
She will get this opportunity,” Nyan Win, a spokesman for Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party told AFP, using a common honorific for the Nobel laureate.
The opposition leader will travel with just three other people, he added, and is expected to arrive in Washington on Monday.
Despite the predicted red carpet welcome her visit is laced with potential political trouble.
Suu Kyi’s stay coincides with that of Myanmar’s President Thein Sein, who is due in the US later in the month to attend the United Nations General Assembly.
“There is a risk that she will overshadow this significant first U.S. visit by Thein Sein ― who has not yet really gotten the international recognition that he deserves for the remarkable reform process that he has put in place,” according to Richard Horsey, an independent Myanmar analyst.
Horsey said it would be “particularly unhelpful” if the U.S. president chose to meet Myanmar’s democracy champion but not its leader, “which unfortunately looks to be the case.”
The 67-year-old could also face tricky questions on the treatment of stateless Rohingya Muslims after a wave of deadly communal violence in western Myanmar.
Suu Kyi has remained cautious in her comments about the group, who many in Myanmar believe are foreigners and therefore not entitled to citizenship.
Last week the U.S. embassy in Yangon expressed its “great concern” at the humanitarian situation in Rakhine state.
Following sweeping moves to lift or suspend sanctions by other Western nations this year, the Washington in July gave the green light to U.S. companies to invest in Myanmar, although a ban on all imports from the country remains.