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Myanmar's Aung San Suu Kyi To Leave Country For First Time In 24 Years

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AUNG SAN SUU KYI MYANMAR
Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi speaks during a visit to her constituency on the occasion of festivities surrounding the country's new year in Kawhmu outside Yangon on April 17, 2012. ( Soe Than WIN/AFP/Getty Images) | Getty Images

YANGON, Myanmar — Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi plans to travel to Britain and Norway in June on her first trip abroad in 24 years, her party spokesman said Wednesday.

The 66-year-old democracy icon has not left Myanmar for more than two decades because of fears the nation's authoritarian rulers would not allow her to return.

The junta that ruled the country for almost half a century ceded power to a new government last year that has embarked on a series of widely praised reforms, including opening a dialogue with Suu Kyi and allowing her to run for – and win – a seat in parliament.

Nyan Win, a spokesman for Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy, said the trip would prove that Suu Kyi "can travel freely. This is a very positive indicator."

Suu Kyi has not left Myanmar since 1988, when she arrived from Britain to visit her ailing mother and ended up leading the country's struggle for democracy.

Since then, the daughter of national independence hero Aung San has spent 15 years under house arrest. For most of that time, she was separated from her husband Michael Aris and their two children, who still live abroad. In 1999, Suu Kyi refused to leave Myanmar to visit Aris as he was dying because of concerns that the former ruling junta would not allow her back.

During a brief visit to Myanmar on Friday, British Prime Minister David Cameron invited Suu Kyi to visit, saying it would be a sign of progress if she were able to leave and then return to carry out her duties as a lawmaker.

Suu Kyi replied that "two years ago I would have said thank you for the invitation, but sorry. But now I am able to say perhaps, and that's great progress."

Nyan Win said the trip would include a trip to Oxford, where she attended university in the 1970s and raised her two children.

Suu Kyi won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her democratic struggle but was unable to collect the award in Oslo because she was under house arrest at the time.

She has previously told visiting Norwegian ministers that if she ever travels abroad, Norway would be her first destination, Nyan Win said.

Svein Michelsen, a spokesman for Norway's foreign minister, confirmed that Suu Kyi is preparing a June visit at the invitation of Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg.

"We're very much looking forward to it," Michelsen said. He said the exact dates have not been decided.

The United States, whose top diplomat Hillary Rodham Clinton visited Myanmar in December, welcomed Suu Kyi's "her ability to go out and travel"and hold dialogue with foreign governments. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said she would always have an "open invitation" to visit the U.S. and continue the dialogue she began with Clinton, but did not know of any current plan for that.

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Associated Press writers Louise Nordstrom in Stockholm and Matthew Pennington in Washington contributed to this report.

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