Aung San Suu Kyi is free to speak her mind, address large crowds and meet with foreign diplomats. But the generals who rule Myanmar are still preventing the democracy icon from doing the one thing she wants to do most: see her family.
In an interview with The Globe and Mail, Ms. Suu Kyi expressed excitement Friday about the desire for change among the young people of Myanmar and said she wanted to meet with junta leader General Than Shwe and "let him speak first" about the country's political crisis.
But she also expressed frustration that the junta won't allow her two sons to visit her. She said she has yet to even see a photograph of her young grandchildren.
"What I missed most were my sons. I would have liked to have seen them," she said, referring to the seven years she spent under house arrest in Rangoon, a time during which she was allowed to receive just one letter from each of her sons, Alexander and Kim.
Though the world has celebrated Ms. Suu Kyi's Nov. 13 release, the junta hasn't followed that up by granting a visa to Kim, who has been in Bangkok for two weeks now trying to get permission to enter the country better known as Burma and see his mother. "I don't think they've given a thought to answering [his visa application]" Ms. Suu Kyi said, a rare hint of bitterness in her voice.
Now 33, Kim last saw his mother more than a decade ago. The electric guitar he played on his last visit to Rangoon, now badly out of tune, still sits in the front room of the family home on the shore of Inya Lake, where Ms. Suu Kyi has spent most of the past two decades, alone but for the company of two maids.
And while Ms. Suu Kyi has spoken daily with each of her sons since her release, she said Friday that she had not yet been able to see even a photo of her two grandchildren, whom she has never met. The Nobel Peace Prize laureate has been under some form of detention for 14 of the 20 years since she led the National League for Democracy to a sweeping win in a 1990 election that the military has never honoured.
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But she refuses to feel sorry for herself. Pressed about her destroyed family life - she also was forced to miss the 1999 funeral of her British husband, Michael Aris, for fear she wouldn't be allowed back into Myanmar - she argues that her suffering pales in comparison to that of the 2,200 other political prisoners held by the junta. "I'm a lot better off than a lot of other people, than a lot of other prisoners, so I can't complain about my situation," she said, speaking over a crackling telephone line from Rangoon.
Ms. Suu Kyi has weathered the long detentions and her personal pains remarkably well. Her wit and intellect are undimmed, and her voice is full of the same conviction that won over the crowds when she returned to Rangoon during the pro-democracy uprising of 1988. She looks a decade, perhaps two, younger than her 65 years, leading a Myanmarese journalist to inquire about her beauty secrets during a news conference this week.
With no telephone or Internet access, and few visitors allowed to see her, Ms. Suu Kyi passed her time under house arrest by meditating, reading and learning how to do odd jobs around the crumbling house, since the junta forbade even workers from going to her residence for repair work. She spent six hours a day listening to the radio - primarily the Burmese-language services of BBC and Radio Free Asia - knowing that if she missed any snippet of news, there was no one who could tell her about it later.
She sketched and listened to music but, unlike Nelson Mandela, wrote no memoir for fears it would be read only by her captors.
Ms. Suu Kyi confessed Friday that she felt "exhausted" at the end of her first week of freedom. The days since her release have been a blur of speeches, conferences and interviews. She said she has drawn energy from Myanmar's youths, who have turned out in droves to see a woman who, for many, has been in detention for most of their lives.
"The enormous participation of young people," she responded when asked what has surprised her most since her release. "I hadn't expected to see that. A lot of these young people have just become more interested in the political scene. ... They want change. [Their excitement is]largely because of that, and they know they have to become involved if they want change."
During the interview, Ms. Suu Kyi called for open-ended talks with Gen. Than Shwe - the junta's unquestioned boss - aimed at ending the country's decades-old political crisis. "What I want to do is just start talking. I'd like to let him speak first. Dialogue is not just about what you want to say."
In between meeting with foreign diplomats and the other leaders of the NLD, Ms. Suu Kyi took time on Wednesday to visit a home for some of Myanmar's 240,000 HIV/AIDS sufferers, indicating her agenda won't be confined to politics alone. As with everywhere she has gone in public, she was followed by a crowd of hundreds of supporters.
The junta, which initially greeted her release with warm words about her good behaviour during her sentence, showed Friday that her popularity still makes them nervous, ordering the HIV/AIDS clinic to close after the visit, forcing its 80 residents onto the streets.
Ms. Suu Kyi's house arrest ended six days after Myanmar held its first election since the stolen 1990 vote. Amid widespread allegations of fraud, a regime-backed party - led by ex-military officers - claimed 80 per cent of the seats in the new parliament.
The NLD boycotted the recent election, saying the vote wouldn't be fair under the rules set out by the military and insisting that the 1990 results should stand. Ms. Suu Kyi was barred from taking part due to the fact she has been in prison.
Some have speculated that Ms. Suu Kyi's release is part of a public-relations effort by the junta aimed at getting the international community to lift some of the economic sanctions that have been in place for the past two decades. In a rare public address this week, Prime Minister Thein Sein told an audience of regional leaders and business executives in Cambodia that Myanmar was "creating a pro-business environment."
Ms. Suu Kyi hinted this week that she was reconsidering her support for sanctions, which are unpopular inside Myanmar, one of the poorest countries on the planet with an average annual income just below that of Haiti. On Friday, however, she said she was not yet ready to make a pronouncement on the issue. "We can't come to a conclusion about sanctions until we study the issue further. There are those who say sanctions work and those who say they don't," she said.
Ms. Suu Kyi said she believes she was freed only because her latest sentence had expired and the junta couldn't find a legal way to extend her detention.
Having been released twice before - in 1995 and 2002 - and rearrested each time, Ms. Suu Kyi said she knew the generals could decide at any moment to take her freedom away again. "I'm not worried about it, but I accept that it's possible," she said, fatigue heavy in her voice.
Shortly afterward, she made her apologies and ended the interview. It was past nightfall in Rangoon, but there were still more phone calls to make and people to meet before she could rest.