Burma deports Michelle Yeoh over film role

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The Independent Online

Michelle Yeoh, the actor who stars as Aung San Suu Kyi in a forthcoming film, was deported from Burma after being placed on a blacklist by the military authorities who still control the country.

Yeoh, who has appeared in films such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and the James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies, arrived at Rangoon's international airport last Wednesday but was refused entry at immigration and placed on the first available flight out of the country.

"I don't know what happened at the airport," Nyan Win, a lawyer for the Burmese democracy leader, said last night from Rangoon.

The Malaysian-born Yeoh met with Ms Suu Kyi, known as The Lady by her supporters, after the democracy leader was released from house arrest last November after more than seven years of detention at her crumbling lakeside home in Rangoon.

"Last year, she came to Burma and she spent all day with The Lady," Nyan Win said, adding that it was a "good visit" and it was possible the actress was planning to meet with Ms Suu Kyi again this time.

But an unidentified Burmese official told the Agence France-Presse that staff at the airport would have been alerted to watch out for Yeoh and stopped her when she landed on 22 June. "She did not have the chance to enter Myanmar [Burma] again," the official said. "She was deported straight away on the first flight after arriving at Yangon [Rangoon] International Airport. She's on the blacklist now."

There was no word from the authorities as to why Yeoh had been placed on the list of banned individuals, which is usually made up of journalists and democracy activists.

The 48-year-old presumably irked the generals by her decision to feature in the movie, The Lady, large parts of which were shot last year in Thailand, France and Britain. The film, based on a screenplay by the British writer Rebecca Frayn and directed by Luc Besson, tells the story of Ms Suu Kyi and her relationship with Michael Aris, the British man she married after the couple met while studying at Oxford in the early 1970s. After returning to Burma in the late 1980s and becoming embroiled in the nascent democracy movement, Ms Suu Kyi took the wrenching decision to remain in Burma after she learned that her husband had terminal cancer and had been refused a visa to visit her in Rangoon.

She said she knew that if she had left, the generals would have put her on the sort of blacklist that Yeoh is now on. The film is expected to be released later this year.

Mr Besson told Time magazine that he felt compelled to direct the movie after reading the script. "The more I read, the more I wanted to direct it myself," he said last year. "Her life story is amazing. It's almost Shakespearean."

News of Yeoh's deportation comes as Ms Suu Kyi, 66, prepares for a tour of Burma to meet ordinary citizens and talk about their concerns.

There are worries about safety arrangements for the leader of the National League for Democracy. When she carried out a similar tour in 2003, militias that supported the junta attacked her convoy and killed dozens of her supporters.

When the United States Senator John McCain recently visited Burma and met Ms Suu Kyi, he said the government must take responsibility for her safety.