Soe Than Win/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi with her son Kim Aris after his arrival at Yangon airport on Tuesday.
By SETH MYDANS
Published: November 23, 2010
PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — Myanmar’s leading dissident, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, was reunited with her youngest son on Tuesday after a decade-long separation during which she said she never felt that they had been apart.
Soe Than Win/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, center, left the Yangon airport with her son Kim Aris on Tuesday. They met after a 10-year separation.
“I am very happy,” she said in a telephone interview after meeting her son, Kim Aris, 33, at the airport, and she thanked the military junta for giving him a visa after repeated refusals.
But she said, “I don’t feel that I’ve been apart from him for so many years. I never felt apart from him.”
Nevertheless, only a few days after the exuberance of her release, she sounded weary, perfunctory and even curt during the interview, saying, “I don’t want to talk about it,” when pressed about her feelings about her reunion with her son.
The decision to grant him a visa was a symbolic gesture of leniency by the junta, which released Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi after her term of house arrest ended 10 days ago. She has been allowed to meet with supporters and give interviews.
The reunion on Tuesday underlined the personal toll of the political campaign Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi has waged during the past two decades.
During that period she was detained for 15 years and only rarely allowed visitors or communication with the outside world.
She has always been free to leave Myanmar, according to her lawyers, but chose to stay for fear of being denied re-entry.
“I don’t believe in looking at it as a sacrifice,” she said of her decision to embrace her fate as a political martyr. “It’s a choice. It’s a choice I made.”
Now that she is free, she said, she intends to lead what she calls a nonviolent revolution, rather than an incremental evolution.
She said her use of the term “revolution” was justified because, “I think of evolution as imperceptible change, very, very slowly, and I think of revolution as significant change. I say this because we are in need of significant change.”
The change she had in mind, she said, was “a change for the better from the point of view of human rights and democratic institutions.”
But she said that unlike some of her supporters in the West, she did not see regime change as a goal. “What we want is value change,” she said. “Regime change can be temporary, but value change is a long-term business. We want the values in our country to be changed. We want a sound foundation for change.
“Even if there’s regime change, if these basic values have not changed, then one regime change can lead to another regime change and so on and so on.”
She said she did not endorse moves among her supporters overseas to try to bring the junta leaders into international court for crimes against humanity.
“I’ve never said I want them to be brought into the international court,” she said. “I don’t think there is any solid reason for the generals to fear for their safety. We are not after them personally. I certainly do not wish them ill.”
As for her own ambitions, she said, “I’m not very much concerned whether I personally come to power, but I am concerned about the power of the people.” The people of Myanmar, whose aspirations and whose popular uprisings have been crushed over the years, must understand that real power is in their hands, she said.
To this end, she said she would continue to work through her party, the National League for Democracy, although the government banned it as a political party when it declined to take part in a parliamentary election this month.
For the moment, she said, she is busy in Yangon, the main city of Myanmar, but she did not rule out a resumption of the trips she made around the country during her last one-year period of freedom, in 2003.
“One should be free to travel around one’s country as one chooses,” she said.
Her last period of freedom ended when a government-backed mob attacked her convoy, killing dozens of people and forcing her to flee for safety.
Asked if she might again be putting her supporters at risk in public gatherings, she said, “They don’t have any reason to feel nervous just because they come out to greet me.”
But she said, “In any society where the rule of law is not firmly established and basic human rights are not respected, there’s always a risk.”
Asked about the personal animus the junta’s leader, Senior Gen. Than Shwe, is said to feel for her, and what she thinks of him, she said, “I don’t think we know each other well enough to care or not care for each other.”
Television footage on Tuesday morning from the airport in Yangon showed Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi and her son in a brief embrace before walking out of the terminal together.
One of the first things he did after greeting his mother was to show her a red tattoo bearing the symbol of her party, which won an election in 1990 but was not allowed by the military to take power.
This month, the junta held its first election since then, carefully engineered to produce a victory for its favored party, creating a new Parliament that analysts say will provide a civilian face to continued military rule.
In 1991, a year after the previous election, Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, which was accepted for her in Oslo by her older son, Alexander Aris. Her late husband, Michael Aris, raised their two children in Britain. He was unable to visit with his wife before his death a decade ago at the age of 53, and she refused to leave the country to see him for fear that she would not be allowed to return to resume her house arrest.
Asked in the interview about the culture shock of emerging from the sensory deprivation of house arrest to the tumult that surrounds her now, she said, “It’s a bit hectic, but it will calm down in a few weeks.”
Thomas Fuller contributed reporting from Bangkok.