State spies watch as Suu Kyi marks her first birthday in freedom

For the first time in nearly a decade, the Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi celebrated her birthday in freedom yesterday, with supporters freeing symbolic caged birds as state security agents watched from across the street.

The Nobel Peace Prize laureate turned 66, and received one gift at Rangoon's international airport: the arrival of her youngest son, Kim Aris, who lives in Britain.

"If I were asked what I would wish on my birthday, I wish for peace, stability and prosperity in the country," Ms Suu Kyi said in a brief address to supporters at her opposition party's headquarters in Rangoon.

She said there were "sparks of war flying", apparently referring to recent fighting between government troops and ethnic Kachin rebels in the north which displaced thousands.

The celebration was attended by about 500 party members and supporters. They then released balloons into the air and freed dozens of sparrows and doves from cages.

Across the street, more than 50 plainclothes police and intelligence agents took photos and videotaped those who came and went.

Ms Suu Kyi has celebrated 15 birthdays in detention or house arrest over the past 22 years, and this was the first birthday in nine years that she was able to mark freely with friends, family and supporters.