Burmese Opposition leader Suu Kyi's
husband dies of cancer in London
Michael Aris, husband of Burmese opposition leader and Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, died today in a British hospital, diplomatic sources in Rangoon said.
Burma's military government had denied Aris, who was ill with prostate cancer that had spread to his spine and lungs, a visa to enter the country and see his wife one last time.
Aris, a scholar who specialised in Tibetan studies, died on his 53rd birthday.
Western governments and international human rights groups had been urging the Burmese military junta to grant Aris a visa on humanitarian grounds, but it refused and instead urged Suu Kyi to visit her husband in Britain.
Suu Kyi refused to leave Burma because she believed the military would not let her back in.
The 1991 Nobel peace prize-winner released a brief statement through diplomats after learning of her husband's death.
"On behalf of my sons Alexander and Kim, as well as on my own behalf, I want to thank all those around the world who have supported my husband during his illness and have given me and my family love and sympathy," her statement read.
"I have been so fortunate to have such a wonderful husband who had always given me the understanding I needed. Nothing can take that away from me," she added.
Suu Kyi was with friends and diplomats when she learnt of Aris's death. One diplomat said she took the news serenely. Friends and supporters are attending to her.
The military government had let Aris and their children visit Suu Kyi several times in the past, but had been refusing him a visa for at least the last two years.
While Suu Kyi was under arrest, Aris collected her writings and had them published as a book entitled Freedom from Fear.
Suu Kyi has always sought to shield her family from the conflict in Burma and has steadfastly refused to discuss her family with the press.
In refusing Aris a visa after it was learnt that he was dying of cancer, the military junta said the country does not have adequate medical facilities should his condition worsen. It said Aris would be a strain on Burma's medical facilities.
Only yesterday the government had issued a statement assuring Suu Kyi and the international community that she would be allowed to return if she visited Aris in Britain but did not turn the trip into a political venture.
Suu Kyi spurned the offer. Her party, the National League for Democracy, pointed out that the military has broken many promises in the past, including honouring the results of a 1990 election that the NLD won by a landslide.
As Burma's top generals reviewed a parade of 6,000 troops on 'Armed Forces Day' today, opposition groups denounced the military and its refusal to allow Aris to visit Suu Kyi in Burma.
International human rights groups and several Western governments have sharply criticised the military government for refusing to grant Aris a visa to enter the country whose name was changed to Myanmar some years ago by the junta.
Making no reference to the controversy, General Than Shwe, chairman of the government, stressed the need for peace and unity during his speech marking the 54th 'Armed Forces Day'. He called on insurgent groups to return to the legal fold.
In Burma, the chasm between the military junta and the opposition is so deep that they do not even agree on the name of the holiday. Opposition groups call it 'Resistance Day', saying that was its original name and it was meant to commemorate the struggle against Japanese occupation during World War II.
The NLD issued a statement calling for unity and the restoration of democracy in Burma. The military has ruled the country since 1962.
"Today's armed forces owe it to themselves to safeguard the spirit, principles, disciplines, policies and traditions practised in the days of Gen Aung San, father of the armed forces," it said.
Aung San, who founded the army and led the country to independence from the Japanese and British colonial rule, was Suu Kyi's father. He and seven of his Cabinet members were assassinated in 1947. He favoured a democratic system of governance for Burma.
The military was also denounced by the national coalition government of the Union of Burma, which is composed of members of Parliament who were driven into exile after the military refused to honour the 1990 election result.
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