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MAE SOT, THAILAND

It was a day of joy… and a little disappointment…

Rumors spread quickly that as part of her first trip out of Burma in 24 years, pro-democracy leader and former political prisoner Aung San Suu Kyi would pay a historic visit to Mae Sot – a border town on the northwest of Thailand.

Over the years thousands of people have crossed the border fleeing the civil war or the hard working conditions in Burma, making Mae Sot and its surroundings home to more than a couple hundred thousand Burmese refugees and immigrants. Aung San Suu Kyi’s visit and the recent changes in neighboring Burma are hope to many.

From early morning and armed with flowers and welcoming signs, Aung San Suu Kyi’s supporters gathered in front of the Mae Sot airport to wait for her arrival; hoping to catch a glimpse of their leader before her journey to Mae La refugee camp. National League for Democracy’s flags, as well as Shepard Fairey’s iconic ‘Freedom to lead’ posters were a ‘must’ amongst the crowds.

Just before 10am, crowds went mad at the sight of her car, everyone trying to get a picture, hold her hand or simply catch a glimpse. I was lucky to be there, but not lucky enough to see her face…

After her visit to Mae La camp, Suu Kyi’s schedule included a visit to the Burmese Mae Tao Clinic, where thousands of people gathered to see her and hear the speech they hoped for. However, a last minute change of plans drove her straight to the airport leaving thousands of followers with their flowers and presents untouched and all dressed up with nowhere to go…

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A group of men finish up a welcoming sign in front of the airport prior to Aung San Suu Kyi’s arrival to Mae Sot. Mae Sot, Thailand. ©Erika Pineros 2012

 

Aung San Suu Kyi’s supporters get ready for her arrival in front of Mae Sot airport on her first visit to Thailand in over 20 years. Aung San Suu Kyi visited the Mae La refugee camps near the border, where over 40.000 Burmese people have lived for over 20 years. Mae Sot, Thailand. ©Erika Pineros 2012

 

Activists take pictures of a girl wearing on her face flags of the National League for Democracy (NLD) prior to Aung San Suu Kyi’s arrival at Mae Sot’s airport near the Thai-Burmese border. Mae Sot, Thailand. ©Erika Pineros 2012

 

Supporters proudly show their t-shirts with designs of their leader Aung San Suu Kyi at Mae Sot airport, Thailand. ©Erika Pineros 2012

 

Aung San Suu Kyi’s supporters get ready for her arrival signing “good health to mother” in front of the Mae Sot airport in Thailand. Mae Sot, Thailand. ©Erika Pineros 2012

 

Children held reproductions of the Shepard Fairey’s poster of Aung San Suu Kyi preparing for her welcoming on her visit to Mae Sot, Thailand. ©Erika Pineros 2012

 

Police controls supporters in preparation for Aung San Suu Kyi’s arrival at Mae Sot’s airport in northern Thailand. Mae Sot, Thailand. ©Erika Pineros 2012

 

Hundreds of people gathered in front of the airport to welcome their leader Aung San Suu Kyi as security increased in Mae Sot in preparation for her arrival. Mae Sot, Thailand. ©Erika Pineros 2012

 

After waiting for hours, Aung San Suu Kyi’s supporters finally get a glimpse of their leader in front at Mae Sot’s airport in northern Thailand. Mae Sot, Thailand. ©Erika Pineros 2012

 

Wearing the NLD flag, Aung San Suu Kyi’s supporters sign “good health to mother” prior to her arrival at Mae Sot’s airport in northern Thailand. ©Erika Pineros 2012

 

Police controls supporters in preparation for Aung San Suu Kyi’s arrival at Mae Sot’s airport in northern Thailand. Mae Sot, Thailand. ©Erika Pineros 2012

 

A group of young boys wearing modern clothes and listening to hip-pop music on their phones awaits for Aung San Suu Kyi’s scheduled arrival at Mae Tao Clinic. At last minute, the visit was cancelled without announcement. Hundreds of people waited for hours to see their leader. ©Erika Pineros 2012

 

For one day, Burmese illegal immigrants didn’t have to be scared from the Thai authorities, who do regular checks near the Thai-Burmese border. Mae Sot, Thailand. ©Erika Pineros 2012

 

A Burmese couple stares at the sky in front of the Mae Sot airport waiting to see the plane that will take Aung San Suu Kyi back to Bangkok. Hundreds of people with flowers and other presents were left waiting to see their leader, since Aung San Suu Kyi’s plans changed at last minute. Mae Sot, Thailand. ©Erika Pineros 2012

 

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