Suu Kyi speaks of family sacrifice
OXFORD, UNITED KINGDOM, 20 June 2012: Aung San Suu Kyi made an emotional return to Britain on her 67th birthday Tuesday, visiting her former home of Oxford and speaking of the “sacrifice” her family were forced to make.
The Myanmar democracy icon was greeted at Oxford University, her alma mater, after taking part in a debate at the London School of Economics (LSE) and meeting the radio DJ she credits with giving her a lifeline during 24 years spent mainly under house arres.
She spent nearly 20 years in Oxford, southern England, and brought up her two sons there with her late husband, the academic Michael Aris.
As leader of the country’s democracy movement, she refused to leave Myanmar, fearing military leaders would prevent her from returning. They placed her under house arrest after her party won a national election that the junta refused to accept.
She only saw her husband and sons a handful of times in the intervening years. Her husband died of cancer in 1999, having told her not to come back, but to continue her struggle.
“I’ve said very often, in fact again and again ad nauseam, that I don’t look at what I have done as a sacrifice. It was a choice I made,” Suu Kyi told ITV television.
“It was a sacrifice for my husband and sons. Especially for my sons, because my husband after all was adult, but the children were young and it must have mattered to them not to have both parents near them.
“And I don’t feel good about it, but on the other hand I think that in the end, one decides what one’s priorities are and one lives with one’s decisions.”
Britain’s last Hong Kong governor Chris Patten, the Chancellor of Oxford University, gave her an official welcome and her former college St Hugh’s was playing host to a birthday party.
Her younger son Kim, now 35, still lives in Oxford and was expected to attend the reunion, but it was not clear if her older son Alexander, 39, who reportedly lives in the United States, would be there.
People cheered and shouted “welcome back” as she arrived in Oxford.
Earlier at the BBC World Service headquarters in London, she finally met Dave Lee Travis, the bearded radio DJ nicknamed the “Hairy Cornflake”, whose music programme she listened to while she was detained.
In a debate at LSE, Suu Kyi spoke of the difficulties of reform in her homeland and stressed the importance of the rule of law.
“This is what we all need if we are to really proceed towards democracy,” she told the packed audience.
“Unless people see that justice is done and seen to be done, we cannot believe in genuine reform.”
Suu Kyi also said she had been “surprised” and “touched” by the reception she had received on her first trip to Europe since 1988 which has also taken in Switzerland, Norway and Ireland, and in Thailand shortly beforehand.
“During this journey, I have found great warmth and great support among peoples all over the world,” she said.
“I think it’s all of you, people like you who have given me the strength to continue,” she said, “and, I suppose, I do have a stubborn streak in me.”
As a special birthday gift, she was given a photograph of her father, independence leader General Aung San, taken on his visit to London in 1947, a few months before he was assassinated.
On Wednesday, she will receive an honorary doctorate from Oxford University, before addressing both houses of parliament on Thursday, a rare honour bestowed on only four foreign dignitaries since World War II.
She will also meet Britain’s heir to the throne Prince Charles and Prime Minister David Cameron during her visit.
In parliament Tuesday, Foreign Secretary William Hague told lawmakers that despite their delight at welcoming Suu Kyi, there was still a long way to go on reform in Myanmar.
“There will be a variety of views about the democratic progress of Burma within the regime,” he said.
“So it is vital for all of us who believe in freedom and democracy across the world to work with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi over the coming months and years.”
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