YANGON - Democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi left Myanmar Wednesday on her first trip to Europe since 1988 to formally accept the Nobel Peace Prize that thrust her into the global limelight two decades ago. Her visit marks a new milestone in the political changes that have swept the country formerly known as Burma since decades of military rule ended last year, bringing to power a new quasi-civilian government. "I would like to do my best for the interests of the people," Suu Kyi told reporters before her plane left Yangon airport. She will visit Switzerland, Norway, Britain, France and Ireland on her more than two week tour.
She leaves as western Myanmar is rocked by sectarian violence between Buddhists and Muslim Rohingya that has left dozens dead and prompted President Thein Sein to warn of disruption to the fragile reform process.
Suu Kyi could face calls in Europe to address the underlying sectarian issues, although analysts say she may instead choose to focus on the wider topic of human rights.
"It's a very explosive situation and whoever touches the issue will have to walk a very, very fine line," said Aung Naing Oo, a Myanmar expert with the Vahu Development Institute in Thailand.
The Myanmar government and many Burmese consider the Rohingya to be illegal immigrants and view them with hostility.
Even key figures in the democratic movement have come out to say the Rohingya are not one of Myanmar's ethnic nationalities.
A spokesman for Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party said the former political prisoner had instructed him to work "to help both sides equally" before she left for Europe.