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A collection of previously unseen photos of a young Aung San Suu Kyi have been released by her family to mark the Burmese opposition icon’s 65th birthday tomorrow.
As tributes gets underway in Burma, where the Nobel laureate has been held under house arrest for nearly 15 years, a rare and intimate glimpse has been given into the life of Suu Kyi and her late husband, Michael Aris, as they navigated the snowy slopes of Bhutan in the 1970s and holidayed on the Norfolk Broads in the years prior to her return to Burma.
The series of photographs, given to the Guardian newspaper by the Aris family, depict a newly-married Suu Kyi enveloped in the arms of Aris, a scholar of Tibetan culture whom she met whilst studying at Oxford. Other images of her doting on her two sons, Kim and Alexander, show little forewarning of the steely determination and fierce gaze that over the past two decades has fixated the world and so haunted Burma’s ruling generals.
But such is the apparent threat she poses to the military establishment in Burma that Suu Kyi will spend a quiet birthday tomorrow at her dilapidated house-cum-prison on the shores of Rangoon’s Inya lake, which she shares with her two caretakers, Khin Khin Win and Win Ma Ma.
Conditions of her detention mean that she has no access to telephone or radio, and the only visitors allowed inside the compound are her lawyer and doctor. When Michael Aris was diagnosed with cancer in 1997, the Burmese government declined him a visa to visit Suu Kyi, claiming that they didn’t have the facilities to care for her. Despite urging Suu Kyi to leave the country, she refused, knowing she would not be allowed to return, and Aris died in 1999 having only seen his wife five times over the course of a decade.
The two were married in 1972; the photos in Bhutan show her before and after Aris, who was living there at the time, proposed. Before they were married, Suu Kyi told Aris: “I only ask one thing, that should my people need me, you would help me to do my duty by them”.
Alexander was born the following year, and Kim in 1977. Sixteen years after the marriage, Suu Kyi was to return to Burma to tend to her ailing mother, Khin Kyi. Her father, Burma’s independence hero, Aung San, had been assassinated in 1947, when Suu Kyi was only two.
But around her erupted the infamous 1988 student uprising, and Aung San’s daughter was thrust into the political arena. Her speech in front of half a million people in Rangoon on 26 August that year electrified an opposition attempting to capitalise on the resignation of Burma’s long-time dictator, Ne Win, and widespread disquiet at the country’s crumbling economy. The following year she was placed under her first spell of house arrest.
The photographs in some sense belie the hardened character that years of detention, isolation and manipulation by the Burmese regime have forced Suu Kyi to adopt. One photo, taken in 1972 after the wedding, shows her perched on a sofa, eyes fixed on the camera, a smile radiating out. “She’s a wonderful girl, really,” said Win Tin, fellow Burmese opposition icon and one who knows better than most the pains of decades spent in prison. “She is always very enthusiastic.”