Thursday, May 28, 2009

Confusing Testimony, Conflicting Reports Emerge from Yettaw Trial

The Irrawaddy News

Confusing testimony and conflicting reports have emerged from the trial of John William Yettaw, the 53-year-old American whose uninvited visit to Aung San Suu Kyi’s home triggered a criminal case against her.

Burma’s state-run The New Light of Myanmar today reported that Yettaw had testified on Wednesday that he did not swim across Inya Lake to Suu Kyi’s compound, but had instead “walked along the bund of Inya Lake through [sic] the drain.”

A handout photo by Myanmar News Agency, taken on May 13 and released on May 14, shows US citizen John William Yettaw (3rd L on the table) talking to the second secretary consul of the US embassy Colin P. Surst and surrounded by Burmese officials and special police officers at the Aung Thapyey police detention centre in Rangoon.

Speaking to The Irrawaddy after Yettaw’s testimony, Suu Kyi’s lawyer Kyi Win said that when making his statement, the American had motioned with his arms in a pumping action as if walking quickly, but not as if he were swimming.

During nearly three hours of questioning, the former US-Vietnam War veteran from Falcon, Missouri, repeatedly said he “walked though” the lake to reach Suu Kyi's house, according to lawyers who spoke to The Irrawaddy.

The lawyers could not ascertain, however, whether Yettaw was referring to his first visit to Suu Kyi’s compound in November or to both visits.

How exactly he was able to traverse the 5-meter (15-foot) deep lake by foot was not clarified.

When a prosecution lawyer asked Yettaw whether he was making this statement about “walking through” the lake for the first time, Yettaw replied that he had repeatedly told police this during his interrogation, but the police officers did not record the details.

John William Yettaw in a 2005 photo released by his family. (Photo: AP)

The banks of Inya Lake are blocked by security restrictions at many points and the lake is too deep to “walk through,” even at its perimeter. Local residents also say the lake is strewn with thick reeds and undergrowth.

The confusion over the testimony and the doubts it raises over whether his nocturnal swim across Inya Lake was, in fact, physically possible, is compounded by the disparity in reports from Burma’s official media.

It is still far from clear how Yettaw entered the Nobel Peace Prize laureate’s lakeside residence on May 3.

According to lawyers who were present in the courtroom, when Yettaw, a Mormon, took the stand for the first time he told the court that he was "sent by God" to warn both her and the Burmese junta of a "terrorist plot” to assassinate her.

The pro-junta media also reported on Wednesday's testimonies by Suu Kyi’s two companions—Khin Khin Win and Win Ma Ma—who are also on trial.

According to The New Light of Myanmar, both women stated that they had heard Yettaw “moaning” outside the house; Khin Khin Win testified that this happened at about 3:30 a.m. She said she found a man lying outside the house and informed Suu Kyi. Both women testified that Yettaw was not let into the house until it was light.

Yettaw reportedly collaborated this evidence, saying that he lay down near the back door due to cramp in both legs and tiredness. According to the official media, Yettaw then stated that he “entered the residence easily as the back door was not locked.”

According to a lawyer who spoke to The Irrawaddy, Yettaw also testified that when he left Suu Kyi's house on the occasion of his first visit on November 30, 2008, a policeman spotted him and pointed a gun at him. The policeman then shouted: “What are you doing?" According to the lawyer, Yettaw stated that the guard allowed him to continue to the lake after he responded by saying, “I'm coming back.” (JEG's: Yettaw then speaks Burmese language to be able to respond or was he trained to respond to possible questioning?, policeman? does this officer speak English then?)

However, official Burmese media did not report how Yettaw entered and left the compound on his second visit on May 3-5.

According to Suu Kyi’s lawyer Nyan Win, Yettaw testified that—on the night of May 3—as he was entering Suu Kyi’s compound, four or five policemen saw him and threw stones at him.

Yettaw reportedly told the court that police evidence, including the Book of Mormon, a video camera, black Muslim robes, stockings and dark glasses were left behind in the lakeside house.

According to Suu Kyi's lawyer, Yettaw testified that Suu Kyi told him to "respect the law" and "go back as soon as possible."

Nyan Win said that during questioning, lawyers and even the judge laughed openly and mocked Yettaw.

The lawyer said that Suu Kyi expressed pity for the American for the way the court had humiliated him.

"She said that even if we don't believe another person’s religion, we still have to respect their opinion," Nyan Win told The Irrawaddy.

The trial has been taking place behind closed doors inside the compound of Rangoon's notorious Insein prison. A handful of reporters and diplomats were permitted to attend Suu Kyi’s first appearance in court; however, only a representative of the US embassy has been allowed to attend Yettaw’s trial.

Initially, state media reported that police authorities had fished Yettaw out of Rangoon's Inya Lake early on Wednesday, May 6, while he was returning from a visit to Suu Kyi's home.

The report said the American man had confessed to swimming across the lake, sneaking into Suu Kyi's residence and then swimming back before being spotted by police and arrested. The state-run press reported that he swam with an empty 5-liter plastic water jug, presumably to use as a float, adding that police confiscated the man's belongings, which included a US passport, a black backpack, a pair of pliers, a camera and two US $100 bills.

However, observers have questioned how an asthmatic, diabetic 53-year-old man, apparently not close to peak fitness, could swim two kilometers (1.2 miles).

Yettaw also testified that while in Thailand he had 10 times visited the Mae Taw Clinic in Mae Sot, according to Thursday’s The New Light of Myanmar. He also stated that he had met with Bo Kyi of the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma).

Bo Kyi confirmed to The Irrawaddy that he had met Yettaw in Chiang Mai and said that Yettaw had told him he was conducting research on Burmese political prisoners.

Meanwhile, local sources told The Irrawaddy that at 3 p.m. on Thursday, a police convoy left Insein Prison. An unconfirmed report said that police were taking Yettaw to the east bank of Inya Lake apparently to re-enact the scenario of his swim to Suu Kyi’s compound.

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