By Wa Lone
TORONTO (Reuters) - A Myanmar beauty queen, who had spoken out against military rule in her country and became stranded at Thailand's airport, said she was relieved but remained defiant after landing in Toronto on Wednesday.
Han Lay captured global attention last year with her pageant speech on the army's deadly suppression of anti-junta protests. After spending the past year in Thailand, she was denied re-entry into the country after a brief exit and spent days in Bangkok airport, pleading on social media not to be sent back home.
"Since I landed here, I feel safe and my worries have gone away," she told Reuters by phone from Toronto's international airport where she was awaiting a connecting flight to eastern Canada. "I am always a supporter for Myanmar democracy; I will always support it as much as I can."
The 23-year-old, whose real name is Thaw Nandar Aung, said she was going to live in Prince Edward Island, a province off Canada's Atlantic coast, with the government's assistance but did not say how long she would be there or what her status in Canada was.
Thai immigration officials denied her entry last week following a brief visit to Vietnam, saying she was using invalid travel documents. Han Lay arrived in Toronto via Seoul, on a Korean Air flight.
Myanmar has been plagued by violence since the military seized power early last year, with clashes between junta forces and militias allied with a shadow government and pro-democracy groups. A crackdown has targetted pro-democracy and youth groups, activists, politicians, celebrities and social media influencers.
A Human Rights Watch director said Myanmar's military rulers were using control over passports as a weapon against citizens' right to travel internationally.
"Such actions should be universally condemned, and governments around the world should be on guard against the junta using similar tactics against overseas dissidents traveling on Myanmar passports in the future," Phil Robertson said in a statement.
A spokesperson for Myanmar's junta did not respond to calls seeking comment. A spokesperson for Canada's immigration minister declined to provide details on Han Lay's case without her consent.
(Reporting by Anna Mehler Paperny; editing by Jonathan Oatis)