Suu Kyi and son reunited after 10-year separation

Phoebe Kennedy witnesses a day of family joy in Burma

For the 30 minutes that she sat, alone, on a bench in Rangoon airport waiting for her son yesterday, Aung San Suu Kyi was not Burma's democracy leader, a former prisoner of conscience or prize-winning dissident. She was simply a mother. Released from house arrest 10 days ago, Ms Suu Kyi was finally to be reunited with her younger son Kim, whom she had not seen for a decade.

At first she stood in the arrivals hall like everyone else, waiting for the early morning flight from Bangkok. But then Ms Suu Kyi – a celebrity even to servants of the military regime – was approached by an airport security officer and ushered through customs to a seat next to the passport counters.

The Nobel peace laureate stood and waved when she spotted 33-year-old Kim Aris skipping down the steps from the airline gates. He cleared immigration and greeted her with a quick hug. She stepped back to look at him and laughed as he took off his jacket to show her a tattoo of a peacock on his upper arm – the symbol of her National League for Democracy party.

It was a happy reunion after a long and painful separation. Mr Aris, who lives in Britain, had been repeatedly denied entry to Burma after his last visit in December 2000. Anticipating his mother's release, he flew to neighbouring Thailand three weeks ago in the hope of obtaining a visa. His request was finally granted on Monday, in a show of leniency by the junta which has allowed Ms Suu Kyi to move around and speak relatively freely since she was released on 13 November.

"I'm happy, very happy," beamed Ms Suu Kyi, her arm linked through her son's and their hands clasped together.

Mr Aris is the younger of the two sons of Ms Suu Kyi and her late husband, the British academic Michael Aris, whom she met while they were both studying at Oxford University in the early 1970s. The family lived quietly, and by all accounts very happily, in Oxford, until 1988, when Ms Suu Kyi returned to Burma to care for her ailing mother. Once there, she was swept up in a wave of opposition to military rule, and, as the daughter of independence hero General Aung San, quickly became the figurehead of the democracy movement.

Ms Suu Kyi has seen little of her family since. She never returned to Britain, where her husband stayed to bring up their children.

When Michael Aris was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1997, she made the difficult decision not to visit him, fearing the Burmese junta would not allow her back. He, in turn, was denied permission to travel to Burma before he died, two years later.

In Rangoon, Ms Suu Kyi has spent much of the past two decades under house arrest at her lakeside home, with little contact with the outside world. During her most recent, seven-year stint of detention, the regime allowed her to receive just one letter from Kim and one from his older brother Alexander, 37, who now lives in the US.

Kim Aris has become the father of two children since he last saw his mother, but yesterday looked very much like a son – in a scruffy khaki T-shirt and jeans, a rucksack on his shoulders. His mother, by contrast, looked typically elegant and fragrant, dressed in pale green silk, her hair swept back in a band of tiny yellow and pink roses.

But his outfit may have been more thoughtfully chosen than it appeared to be. Emblazoned on his T-shirt was one of the monsters from the classic children's book Where The Wild Things Are. Perhaps Mr Aris wanted to remind Ms Suu Kyi of the family life they used to share in Oxford, or even just to make her laugh.

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