Love in the shadow of oppression

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The Independent Online
THE MARRIAGE of Michael Aris and Aung San Suu Kyi, which has ended with his death from cancer at the age of 53, was an unconventional one that remained strong despite the pain of enforced separation and the shadow of oppression.

The Oxford academic knew on his wedding day 27 years ago that his bride would eventually have to return to Burma to fight for her people's right to freedom, because of her heritage - her father was General Aung San, a national hero assassinated in 1947 after he won Burma's independence from Britain.

The couple had met while she was a student at Oxford, moved first to the Kingdom of Bhutan then back to Oxford where she gave birth to their sons, Alexander and Kim.

But the renewed struggle for Burma's freedom was to consume both their lives.

In 1988, a nationwide uprising against military rule erupted while Ms Suu Kyi was in Burma nursing her dying mother. A Tiananmen-style massacre took place with the military opening fire on pro-democracy demonstrators. Her status as the daughter of the country's independence hero meant she rapidly emerged as the leader of the democracy movement.

The military crushed the uprising and placed Ms Suu Kyi under house arrest from 1989 to 1995. During that time she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The government allowed Mr Aris and their children to visit Ms Suu Kyi several times but had been refusing him a visa for at least the past two years.

While Ms Suu Kyi was under arrest, he collected her writings and published them as a book entitled Freedom From Fear.

Ms Suu Kyi, a heroine for millions of Burmese, was released officially from house arrest in 1995 but her movements are still severely restricted. When she tried to travel out of Rangoon to meet supporters in the country earlier this year, her route was repeatedly blocked. A thousand of her supporters have been arrested, including 200 MPs.

After she learned of her husband's death, she released a brief statement through diplomats .

"On behalf of my sons Alexander and Kim, as well as on my own behalf, I want to thank all those around the world who have supported my husband during his illness and have given me and my family love and sympathy," the statement read.

"I have been so fortunate to have such a wonderful husband who had always given me the understanding I needed. Nothing can take that away from me."

Mr Aris's colleagues at St Antony's College said he had left strict instructions to say nothing which would endanger his persecuted widow.

"Michael would want in death as in life to be a very private person and his greatest concern was to protect his family in every event," said a spokesman.

Tom White, a close family friend who first met Mr Aris in 1988, said he was relieved that Mr Aris had been released from his suffering.

"It has been going on for several months," he added. "He realised he would never get back to see his wife. He had been trying for years to get a visa. For reasons we all understand, she didn't feel she could leave Burma in case she was not allowed back. It was an awful situation for both of them."

The Foreign Office minister, Derek Fatchett, said he was saddened to hear of the death. "My condolences and thoughts are with his family, especially Aung San Suu Kyi and his sons, at this difficult time," he said.

"It is deeply regrettable that, despite numerous international appeals, the Burmese regime refused to grant a visa for Dr Aris to visit his wife before he died."