Decade of grief ends as son is granted visa to visit Suu Kyi

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The Independent Online

Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi is today poised to enjoy an emotional reunion with one of her sons after the ruling junta granted him a visa for the first time in 10 years. Reports suggest the recently released Nobel laureate will travel to Rangoon's international airport to greet him.

The mother and child reunion has been tantalisingly close for the past three weeks as Ms Suu Kyi's 33-year-old son, Kim Aris, was kept waiting in neighbouring Thailand while his application was considered. He had applied hoping he would be able to meet his mother when she was released from house detention 10 days ago but the process was stalled.

Yesterday, senior members of Ms Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) confirmed that Mr Aris had obtained his visa and was hurrying to arrange a flight from Bangkok to the former Burmese capital. He is expected to arrive in Rangoon this morning. He has got his visa already, one of the NLD leader's lawyers, Nyan Win, told Agence France-Presse.

While Mr Aris was unable to visit his mother in the immediate aftermath of her release, he was able to have what British diplomats in Bangkok said was an emotional telephone conversation with her.

Mr Aris is the younger of two children of Ms Suu Kyi and her late husband Michael Aris, a British academic whom she met while the pair were both studying at Oxford University in the early 1970s. After Ms Suu Kyi returned to Burma in 1988, first to care for her ailing mother and then to lead the country's emerging democracy campaign, he stayed in Britain to care for their children and to help lobby on her behalf. In 1997, Mr Aris was diagnosed with an aggressive form of prostate cancer and the Burmese junta repeatedly refused him a visa on the pretext that they did have the medical facilities to care for him.

Ms Suu Kyi faced what she said was one of the most difficult situations of her life. The junta advised her to travel to Britain but she was concerned that if she did the authorities would never allow her to return. She decided to stay in Burma and her husband died without the pair meeting again. Their two sons, Kim and Alexander, 37, have rarely spoken in public about their mother, though Alexander, who lives in the US, accepted the Nobel award on her behalf in 1991 while she was held during an earlier term of detention.

Since her release, Ms Suu Kyi has been meeting advisers and party officials and taking calls from politicians and journalists. She has emphasised her desire to hear directly about the wishes of the Burmese people and has spoken of the need for reconciliation. She has also made clear her intention to continue the struggle for democracy in Burma, something that analysts say will put her on a collision course with the ruling generals.

Observers have said that despite her release much in Burma remains the same and that 2,200 other political prisoners remain behind bars in prisons scattered across the country. Ms Su Kyi is also battling to overturn the official dissolution of her party.

In the run-up to the controversial parliamentary election held earlier this month the junta ruled that parties that did not register to compete would be disbanded. The NLD which voted to boycott the election on the recommendation of its leader has always prided itself on being a legal opposition party.

Yesterday, however, the country's highest court refused to hear a petition from Ms Suu Kyi challenging her party's dissolution. The NLD is now considering whether it can make a special appeal.

Tight censorship rules remain for Burma's local media. Nine weekly news journals that gave considerable coverage to Ms Suu Kyi's release have reportedly been temporarily banned.

Several were suspended after the country's so-called press scrutiny board ruled that special supplements devoted to the NLD leader's release were larger than officially permitted.

Another of the publications, a football magazine called The First Eleven Sports Journal, was banned for two weeks after it printed a headline that read "Sunderland Freeze Chelsea United Stunned By Villa & Arsenal Advance To Grab Their Hope". Shading on selected letters spelled out the far more provocative headline: Su Free. Unite & Advance To Grab The Hope.