Suu Kyi aide urges tourists to visit Myanmar: report

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A close associate of democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi has called on foreigners to visit military-ruled Myanmar to witness the suffering of its people, a British newspaper reported Thursday.

Win Tin, a co-founder of Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD), told The Times that contrary to a previous call for a tourism boycott, the party now wants outsiders to learn more about the country, also known as Burma.

"We want people to come to Burma, not to help the junta, but to help the people by understanding the situation: political, economic, moral -- everything," he said.

His comments come days before the country holds its first elections since Suu Kyi's party won a landslide victory in 1990 that was never recognised by the junta.

The NLD is refusing to participate in Sunday's vote and has been disbanded.

Suu Kyi, who has since spent much of the last 20 years incarcerated, has favoured a boycott in the past, reacting to the junta's tourism push in 1996 by urging foreigners to stay away.

The Times report said concerns that money from overseas travellers would bolster the army had prompted the boycott, while Suu Kyi said at the time "visiting now is tantamount to condoning the regime".

Many foreigners have stayed away from the country and its attractions such as the old city of Mandalay and the temples of Bagan.

Last year just 230,000 foreigners arrived at Yangon airport, more than half of them tourists, according to an official estimate, compared with an estimated 14 million foreign visitors in Thailand in 2009.

Win Tin said that welcoming tourists could help open the country to foreign scrutiny, increasing understanding of the challenges people face and boosting incomes.

"For the outside world to see, to know our situation, that can help our cause a lot, we think," he said.

But fears that increased tourism will line the pockets of the generals and their cronies remain.

"To have a very big cruise ship with hundreds of tourists coming in -- that's a lot of money for the regime, and so we don't like such big business," he said.

Win Tin said it was not clear if Suu Kyi herself supported the idea of encouraging more overseas visitors. The Nobel Peace Prize winner's current period of house arrest is due to expire on November 13.

© 2010 AFP

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