06/17/2024, 20.42
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For Aung San Suu Kyi's son, no one is free in Myanmar until everyone is free

by Alessandra De Poli

Kim Aris, 47, has accepted on his mother’s behalf the honorary citizenship awarded to her by the town of Abbiategrasso (Italy). Her family does not know where the 79-year-old is being detained nor her health conditions. According to her son, the international community did not understand Aung San Suu Kyi's actions with the Rohingya.

Abbiategrasso (AsiaNews) – Aung San Suu Kyi, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and former State Counsellor of Myanmar, will turn 79 on Wednesday. But for her, this will be yet another birthday in prison. After spending a quarter of her life under house arrest for her commitment to democracy against the military regime, she was jailed again in 2021 following Myanmar’s latest coup, which sparked a civil war.

Since then, the military junta has been fighting a resistance movement made up of ethnic militias and other paramilitary groups.

No one knows Aung San Suu Kyi's current whereabouts, not even her sons, Alexander and Kim Aris, who grew up and still live in the United Kingdom. Suu Kyi studied in the European country where she met her future husband, Michael Aris, before returning to Myanmar in 1988 to join peaceful protests against the military dictatorship. Once detained, her husband was only able to visit her five times before he died of cancer in 1999.

Their youngest son, Kim, now 47, was in Abbiategrasso, near Milan, to receive the honorary citizenship bestowed upon her mother. In 1991, when she was awarded the Nobel Prize, Alexander, then 18, accompanied by Kim, who was only 14 years old, accepted the award on her behalf.

Abbiategrasso Mayor Cesare Nai led the ceremony, which saw the participation of some  prominent figures, like Italian MP Umberto Maerna, Lombardy region Councillor Andrea Sala, former Italian MP and friend of Aung San Suu Kyi Albertina Soliani, former Italian ambassador to Myanmar Alessandra Schiavo (who was in Yangon when the coup took place), Milan-based PIME Centre director Father Gianni Criveller, Superior General of the Sisters of Reparation Mother Valentina Pozzi, Abbiategrasso Avis[*] chairman Salvatore Restuccia, and Claudio Tirelli, President of the "Obiettivo sul Mondo"[†] association, which promoted the meeting.

Kim Aris is confident that violence will end in Myanmar and the military will be defeated. The only possible outcome for the Southeast Asian country is the Burmese way of peace, whereby factors that threaten peace are removed, namely discrimination, inequality, and poverty. For him, no one is free until everyone is free.

Expressing concern over the health of his "maymay", the Burmese term for mother, he called for her release. "I spoke to her not long before the coup, so just over three and a half years ago,” he told AsiaNews. But "since then, I have only had one communication from her, one letter," he explained.

"It was great to receive the letter. It was the first real indication that I have had that she was still alive. There is no news coming out about where she is or how she is or anything like that.

“But last year, it was around about this time actually, we heard that she was very unwell, that she was suffering from tooth problems, that she was dizzy, sick. At that point, the military allowed me to send a care package, along with a letter. And then I received a reply in the beginning of this year.” Still, “Not even her lawyers are allowed to see her," Aris noted.

He dismissed claims that she was under house arrest. "We suspect that she is still in prison in Naypyidaw.” In fact, “She’s got a house in Yangon, but they are trying to sell it.” Hence, it would be absurd to think that she was moved there. "There may have been a point when she was moved out and then back in, but there's nothing, no independent verification."

Kim and Alexander, like their father before them, were stripped of their Myanmar citizenship. Nevertheless, he has “been going back and forth over the years.

“I was actually with her when she was first put under house arrest. I was about 12 years old, I think, at the time. Since then, it’s been on and off because when she was under house arrest, depending on who the leadership of the military was, they’d decide: ‘Okay, he can visit! Or he can’s visit!’ Nothing consistent.”

“Then, since she’s been free, she’s been so busy trying to rebuild the country. I haven’t got to see her that much.”

Elected to parliament in 2015 and re-elected in 2020, Aung San Suu Kyi progressively led Myanmar towards democracy and opened up the country to international trade, trying, as far as possible, to keep its powerful military away from politics.

She spent a lifetime for her people, a kaleidoscope of different ethnic groups and religions. And it was precisely in religion that Aung San Suu Kyi found the strength to move forward in her struggle for freedom and democracy.

For Kim Aris, she found strength in “her upbringing as the daughter of the national leader of Burma,” Aung San.[‡] And “Her Buddhist faith has given her a lot of strength, I think, meditating over the period of house arrest, she must have done a lot of meditating.”

This is something that the son does not do much. “I'm not particularly religious," he sid. "I couldn't decide on a religion. They all fight against each other. I'd rather not get involved."

Fighting is something that has shaken Myanmar for over three years. The latest updates report almost three million displaced people and almost 19 million people in need of humanitarian assistance out of a population of over 56 million.

“But it is going to take a long time to rebuild, get back on the path to democracy. There are so many different factions and they need to learn to work together.”

For Aris, the creation of a federal state “is a possibility”. The various factions “are learning to work together. I think that is one of the only good things that has come from this military coup; it is forcing people to work together like they've not done before. It's sad that it has taken this to make that happen."

Currently, some of the most intense fighting is taking place in the western state of Rakhine, on the border with Bangladesh, home to ethnic Rohingya, a Muslim minority persecuted by the military in 2017. At the time, Aung San Suu Kyi was accused of complicity in genocide.

"The international media were completely wrong. Obviously, people will think I'm biased because I'm my mother’s son, but they should look at the evidence, of what she was actually doing in order to try to rectify the situation at the time," explained Kim Aris.

“So she wasn’t saying what some people wanted her to say. But that doesn't mean she wasn't doing everything she could to try to help. In fact, her chief adviser on the situation was a Rakhine Muslim who was assassinated at the airport in Rangoon (Yangon)”. “At the same time, she was taking all the advice that the UN advisers were giving her. And she was acting upon it. Nobody mentions all of that.”

“There were good reasons for her not to say that, because it would probably have resulted in bloodshed sooner than it happened. The international media didn’t want to talk about that. They’d rather condemn her for not saying something that would provoke the military. It is not a constructive thing to have done.”

Instead, it was clear to the people of Myanmar that Aung San Suu Kyi was trying to exercise power without going against the military, which controlled a quarter of parliament and the most important ministries.

From the outside, it was not possible “to understand how sensitive the situation was, how delicate. Democracy was still being built; hadn’t been finished yet.”

“The international community think they know better.” And “the situation with the Rohingya is very complex. It wasn’t as simple as genocide. People wanted her to say genocide. It is a very specific word.

“People like to jump on one thing, and then jump on the next thing. They don’t have a very long attention span.”

[*] Associazione Volontari Italiani del Sangue (Italian Blood Donors Association).

[†] Eyes on the World.

[‡] The leader of Burma’s struggle for independence from British colonial rule and, by a twist of fate, founder of the country’s military.

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18/03/2021 10:33


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