Since returning to Myanmar in 1988 to care for her mother, Dr. Aung Sun Suu Kyi has not left the confines of that country. For fifteen years, she was under house arrest. Between 1989 and 1995 she received five visits from her British husband, Michael Aris. Dr. Aris died in 1999. He was not granted a visa to visit her, and Dr. Suu Kyi knew she would not be allowed to return to Myanmar if she left. After the death of their father, Alexander Aris and Kim Aris were allowed to visit their month one time, and then denied visas until her release from house arrest in 2010.
Dr. Suu Kyi is the daughter of General Aung Sun, who founded the modern Myanmar army and negotiated his nation’s liberation from British rule in 1947. He was assassinated by his rivals as the new Burmese government was being formed. Her other, Khin Kyi, was a member of parliament, a government minister and the Ambassador to India. Until this year, the last free election held in Myanmar took place in 1990, when Dr. Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy took 59% of the national vote and 81% of the parliamentary seats. The military junta that had taken power in 1988 disbanded the government.
In the past two years, Myanmar has seen free elections, a transition to an elected parliament after decades of military rule, the lifting of sanctions imposed by the international community and an outbreak of sectarian violence. Myanmar is the second poorest nation in the Far East, and because of the sanctions placed against the military, the second most isolated (behind North Korea.) During the recent elections, Dr. Suu Kyi won a seat in the parliament and her party won sufficient seats to be a major force in the rebuilding of the country.
During her imprisonment, Dr. Suu Kyi attained a celebrity status as a symbol of democracy and freedom. On Wednesday night, Dr. Suu Kyi landed at Geneva’s Cointrin airport, her first trip to Europe where she was educated in 24 years. She was greeted by admiring crowds. On Thursday, however, she became ill and had to cancel her plans for the day.
She arrived in Oslo, Norway, on Friday to finally accept her Nobel Peace Prize, awarded to her in 1991. She spoke of the need for national reconciliation and co-operation among all the peoples and factions of Myanmar to attain peace and stability.
Her 17-day tour includes visits to Britain, Ireland and France. The visit to Britain will be both public and personal. On June 19, Dr. Suu Kyi turns 67, and she will be attending a family reunion in Britain, where her younger son, Kim Aris, lives. Her older son, Alexander, lives in America. It will be the first time Dr. Suu Kyi has met her grandchildren. She is also expected to address a labor conference and the British Parliament. She will also be receiving an honorary doctorate at her alma mater, Oxford University, and in Ireland will receive an award from Amnesty International and attend a concert featuring Bono.
During her visit to Thailand, and on this trip, Dr. Suu Kyi has delivered an unusual message. She has urged caution about the future of her nation. She doesn’t want the world to think Myanmar is all primroses and moonbeams, but a country that has enormous problems and will need years to restructure itself.