After 10 years, Aung San Suu Kyi's son prepares for reunion
Hopes high that opposition leader will be freed
One of Aung San Suu Kyi's sons has travelled to Bangkok in order to apply for a Burmese visa, so he can visit the detained opposition leader for the first time in 10 years – if she is freed from house arrest after tomorrow's election.
Kim Aris, 33 – one of two sons of Ms Suu Kyi, 65, and her late husband, British academic Michael Aris – flew to the Thai capital from Britain. The last time he saw his mother was in December 2000 and previous visa applications have all failed.
Nyan Win, Ms Suu Kyi's lawyer, told The Independent last night: "[She] is expecting to be released. She is making some preparations. She is planning meetings with the media and how she will handle her security." The story of Ms Suu Kyi's relationship with Mr Aris and her enforced isolation from her children is one of the many sad sub-plots of Burma's decades-long struggle for democracy.
She and Mr Aris met while students in Oxford and married in a Buddhist ceremony in London in 1972. After Ms Suu Kyi returned to Burma in 1988, first to care for her ailing mother and then to lead the democracy campaign, he lobbied for her various causes. In 1997, Mr Aris was diagnosed with prostate cancer. The Burmese authorities refused him a visa to visit his wife, and urged Ms Suu Kyi to visit him in the UK.
She came to the conclusion that if she left, the junta would not let her return to the country. Her husband died in 1999, aged 53, without the two of them being reunited. In the foreword to a 1991 collection of essays by or about his wife, Mr Aris had written: "Fate and history never seem to work in orderly ways. Timings are unpredictable and do not wait upon conveniences."
The couple's two sons, Kim and Alexander, have rarely spoken in public about their mother, though Alexander – who now spends much of his time in the United States – accepted the Nobel Peace Prize on her behalf in 1991.
Ms Suu Kyi, head of the National League for Democracy – which is boycotting Sunday's poll – has been either imprisoned or held under house arrest for 15 of the past 21 years. She was first arrested in 1989 when her sons were aged 11 and 16. She was most recently placed under house arrest in 2003. She was due to have been released last year.
However, the authorities seized on a bizarre incident in which an American citizen swam across a lake in Rangoon to visit her. Although she had not invited the visitor, the authorities claimed Ms Suu Kyi had breached the terms of her detention and extended her house arrest by 18 months – a period which ends on 13 November.
Many obstacles still stand in the way of a yearned-for reunion between mother and son. While the authorities have acknowledged that 13 November marks the end of Ms Suu Kyi's sentence, they have not confirmed whether she will be freed from detention. That may well depend on whether tomorrow's elections – Burma's first in 20 years – are wrapped up to the satisfaction of the generals.
Ms Suu Kyi has relied on letters to keep in touch with her sons. Nyan Win, one of the few people who is allowed to visit her regularly, acts as go-between. "I often take her letters from Kim and the family in Britain," said the lawyer, who last saw her on October 30. "But unfortunately the last time I saw her I didn't know the news that Kim is seeking a visa. She does not know this yet."
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