Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Myanmar junta wants to 'speed up' Suu Kyi trial

YANGON (AFP) – Myanmar's ruling junta is apparently rushing the trial of Aung San Suu Kyi, a party spokesman said as police told the court how they arrested a US man who swam to the democracy icon's home.

The claim came as Asian neighbours finally joined the west in condemning the charges against the 63-year-old Nobel Peace Prize winner, who faces up to five years in jail if convicted of violating her house arrest.

Five witnesses gave evidence Tuesday to the closed-door trial at the notorious Insein prison, including four police officers who said they had arrested American John Yettaw after he spent two days at her lakeside house.

"It indicates that they are trying to finish as soon as possible" by calling many witnesses, Nyan Win, the spokesman for Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy, told reporters.

"If it continues like this, we guess it can be finished by next week."

Myanmar's military regime will allow some reporters from foreign and local news organisations to cover the trial of Aung San Suu Kyi, officials said Wednesday.

"Ten journalists will go this afternoon to get the news from the trial," a Myanmar official told AFP on the morning of the third day, without explaining the apparent change of policy.

The regime's change of heart comes amid intensifying international criticism of the charges against Aung San Suu Kyi.

Nyan Win said the prosecution was expected to call 22 witnesses, all but one of them policemen. The senior officer who filed the original complaint against Aung San Suu Kyi testified on Monday.

Critics say the military regime has trumped up the charges to keep Aung San Suu Kyi locked up during elections due next year, and also to beat a May 27 deadline when her latest six-year period of detention expires.

Aung San Suu Kyi has spent 13 of the last 19 years in detention, most of them under house arrest at the residence which Yettaw visited using a pair of homemade flippers. His family have described the visit as well intentioned.

Yettaw, a former army veteran who was held on May 6, and two female political aides who live with Aung San Suu Kyi are also on trial at the jail near Yangon.

"The witnesses described the situation when they arrested him. They said they watched him as he swam and at first they thought he was a thief," Nyan Win said, recounting the testimony by the four policemen on Tuesday.

"But they said that they knew as soon as he came to the bank of the lake that he was a foreigner. Then they took him to special branch," said Nyan Win, who was allowed to be in the court as part of Aung San Suu Kyi's legal team.

Around 100 party members gathered outside the prison on Tuesday, including Win Tin, formerly Myanmar's longest serving political prisoner, while riot police manned a tight security cordon, witnesses said.

The trial has led to international appeals for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and Myanmar's partners in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) -- which rarely criticises the junta -- have finally joined in.

A statement issued late Monday by Thailand, which holds the rotating chairmanship of the bloc, expressed "grave concern about recent developments relating to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, given her fragile health."

But Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva ruled out imposing sanctions as most western countries have done, saying he hoped Myanmar "will consider ASEAN as friends."

US President Barack Obama formally renewed sanctions against Myanmar -- which Washington calls by its former name of Burma -- on Friday while EU nations on Monday said they were mulling fresh sanctions against the ruling junta.

Myanmar's tightly controlled state media reported on the trial for the first time, giving a rare mention of the imprisoned activist, who is still seen as the junta's most powerful foe.

The military regime refused to recognise the NLD's landslide victory in the last elections to be held in Myanmar in 1990. It has ruled Myanmar since 1962.

Critics say next year's elections are a sham as they will be held under a new constitution, voted for just days after Cyclone Nargis hit the country in May 2008, which gives the army a role in any government.

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