Aung San Suu Kyi began an emotional return to Britain Tuesday, visiting her former home of Oxford and speaking about the “sacrifice” her sons and late husband were forced to make.
She was greeted at Oxford University, her alma mater, after taking part in a debate at the London School of Economics and meeting the radio DJ she credits with giving her a lifeline during 24 years spent mainly under house arrest.
The Myanmar democracy icon spent nearly 20 years in Oxford and brought up her family there, and when she left for her homeland to care for her dying mother in 1988 she had no idea it would be nearly a quarter of a century before she would return.
As leader of the country’s democracy movement, she refused to leave Myanmar, fearing that the military leaders would prevent her from returning.
As a result, she only saw her academic husband Michael Aris and two 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 said in an interview with ITV.
“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.”
The Chancellor of Oxford University, Chris Patten, gave her an official welcome and her former college St Hugh’s was playing host to a party to mark her 67th birthday, which falls on Tuesday.
It was however unclear whether both her sons would attend the private 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.
Earlier, she finally met Dave Lee Travis, the heavily bearded radio DJ nicknamed the “Hairy Cornflake” whose music programme on the BBC World Service she listened to while she was detained.
After the meeting at the headquarters of the World Service, Lee Travis said: “It is so delightful to shake the hand of a person that is doing such a lot for freedom.”
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.
“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, an honour usually reserved for foreign leaders such as US President Barack Obama.
She will also meet members of Britain’s royal family and Prime Minister David Cameron during her week-long visit.