Aung San Suu Kyi given Myanmar passport

Myanmar has issued opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi with a passport, her party said Tuesday, as the former political prisoner prepares to travel abroad for the first time in 24 years.

The 66-year-old democracy icon, who spent much of the last two decades locked up in her Yangon home by Myanmar's former junta, plans to visit Oslo next month to finally accept her 1991 Nobel Peace Prize in person.

"We were informed on Friday that Daw Suu got her passport. Her passport is in her hand now," Nyan Win, spokesman for the veteran activist's National League for Democracy (NLD) party, told AFP. Daw is a term of respect in Myanmar.

Suu Kyi began applying for her Myanmar travel documents soon after she was elected to parliament in landmark April 1 by-elections seen as a key test of reforms under the new quasi-civilian government that came to power last year.

As well as Norway, she also intends to travel to Britain, where she lived for years with her late husband and their two sons before she returned to Myanmar in the late 1980s.

Nyan Win said the trip would go ahead in mid-June as previously expected.

Suu Kyi, the daughter of Myanmar's independence hero General Aung San, was thrust into the limelight as protests broke out against the junta while she was visiting her homeland to care for her sick mother in 1988.

She has not set foot outside Myanmar since, fearing that the generals who ruled the nation for decades would prevent her from returning.

Her decision to venture overseas has been seen as a sign of her confidence in a new regime led by President Thein Sein, a former general, who began a sweeping programme of reforms after coming to power last year.

"She can travel abroad freely," a government official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Suu Kyi's fight for democracy in Myanmar has come at a great personal cost.

Her British academic husband Michael Aris died in 1999 and she had only limited contact with her sons during her many years of detention.

Nyan Win in April said Suu Kyi planned to travel to her university town of Oxford and meet her children during her visit to Britain.

She is also expected to give her long-awaited Nobel acceptance speech in Oslo.

The democracy leader entered Myanmar's army-dominated parliament last week, after initially delaying her debut in the legislature debut in a dispute over the wording of an oath pledging to "safeguard" a military-drafted constitution.

The NLD won 43 of the 45 parliamentary seats available in the by-election, although it does not threaten the overwhelming majority held by the army-backed ruling party and the military.

Myanmar's by-elections were hailed as further progress towards democracy in the country, which was under an army dictatorship for almost half a century, by the international community.

European Union nations last month suspended most sanctions against the resource-rich but poor nation for one year to reward the reforms, which included releasing some political prisoners.

But the United States has ruled out an immediate end to its main sanctions.

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