Thursday, May 28, 2009

Myanmar rejects foreign 'interference' over Suu Kyi

YANGON (AFP) – Myanmar angrily rejected foreign "pressure and interference" over the trial of Aung San Suu Kyi, denying that the trial was a political ploy to keep her locked up for elections in 2010.

The ruling junta handed down a stinging rebuttal to Asian and European ministers at a meeting in Cambodia, in its strongest reaction yet to the storm of international outrage over its treatment of the pro-democracy icon.

"It is not political, it is not a human rights issue. So we don't accept pressure and interference from abroad," Myanmar Deputy Foreign Minister Maung Myint told counterparts in Phnom Penh.

He told the meeting of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and EU ministers that Aung San Suu Kyi's trial for allegedly violating the terms of her house arrest were an "internal legal issue".

The comments came as the sole defence witness took the stand at the closed court in Yangon's notorious Insein prison, with judges disqualifying the only other three people called to testify on behalf of the Nobel laureate.

ASEAN last week issued a rare condemnation of the most troublesome of its 10 member nations, while the EU has repeatedly called for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and threatened to tighten sanctions against Myanmar.

US President Barack Obama on Tuesday described the proceedings as a "show trial".

Separately, Myanmar's state media carried a foreign ministry statement saying that the trial would "not have any political impact" and that it would continue to hold elections next year under its "roadmap" to democracy.

Critics say the polls are a sham designed to entrench the regime's hold on power.

Aung San Suu Kyi faces up to five years behind bars on charges of violating her house arrest, stemming from a bizarre incident in which an American swam to her home to warn her of a divine vision that her life was at risk.

Judges at the closed court on Thursday finished questioning legal expert Kyi Win, the only witness for the defence, said Nyan Win, who is on Aung San Suu Kyi's legal team and is also the spokesman for her political party.

He said both sides would give their closing statements on Monday but it was not yet clear when a verdict would be reached.

The court had barred three out of four defence witnesses, including the detained deputy chairman of Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy, Tin Oo, and another senior party member, he added.

Outside the court security officials arrested a lone protester in his 50s holding a banner in Burmese and English said "Saving Suu is saving Burma", referring to the country by its former name.

Aung San Suu Kyi, who turns 64 next month, has spent 13 of the last 19 years in detention. The junta lifted the latest six-year period of her house arrest on Wednesday but she is in jail pending the verdict.

Yettaw, 53, a devout Mormon and US military veteran, took the stand on Wednesday for the first time and said that he was ordered by God to swim to Aung San Suu Kyi's house after having a dream that she would be assassinated.

The military regime annulled elections in 1990 that the NLD won by a landslide. It has ruled the country with an iron fist since 1962.

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