Thursday, May 28, 2009

Myanmar: Suu Kyi's lawyers optimistic about case

AP Photo/Khin Maung Win

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) -- Lawyers for Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi expressed optimism about her case after the only witness allowed to testify for the defense addressed the court in her trial on charges of violating house arrest.

Closing arguments in a case that could send the Nobel Peace laureate to prison for five years are set to be heard Monday. The defense has argued that there is no legal basis for the charge that Suu Kyi had violated the terms of her house arrest when an uninvited American swam secretly to her home.

Suu Kyi's supporters fear that she may be found guilty because the courts are under the influence of the ruling junta and usually mete out harsh punishment for political dissidents.

But one of Suu Kyi's lawyers, Nyan Win, said Thursday night he was "very confident of victory if the trial is carried out according to law."

The court was in recess Friday.

The trial has drawn outrage from the international community and Suu Kyi's local supporters, who worry that the military junta has found an excuse to keep her detained through next year's elections. Her party won the last elections in 1990 but was not allowed to take power by the military, which has run the country since 1962.

Suu Kyi's defense team acknowledges that 53-year-old John W. Yettaw swam to and entered her lakeside home, where he stayed for two days. They argue, however, that it was the duty of government guards outside her closely watched house to prevent any intruders.

Yettaw was taken to Suu Kyi's residence Thursday, accompanied by dozens of police, to re-enact before court officials how he entered and left her compound, said state-run newspapers Friday, which also published photos of the re-enactment.

Kyi Win, the defense witness who is a legal expert and a member of Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party, highlighted what appears to be the defense's main argument, that the charge against Suu Kyi is unlawful.

The charge against Suu Kyi cites a 1975 state security law, not the more narrowly defined confinement order for her house arrest.

The 1975 law sets out broader penalties and refers to the 1974 constitution, which was annulled when the military took power in 1988. The country adopted a new charter last year.

Prosecutors seemed very unhappy at his testimony, Kyi Win told reporters outside the courtroom after the trial's ninth day. Accounts of testimony have generally come only from the state press and defense lawyer Nyan Win, because reporters have been barred from all but two of the sessions.

Nyan Win, a lawyer for Suu Kyi, said the defense team would submit a letter Friday seeking permission for a private meeting with their clients on Saturday. Yettaw and two female party members who live with Suu Kyi face the same charge as Suu Kyi and have also pleaded not guilty.

Yettaw, of Falcon, Missouri, told the court Wednesday he had been sent by God to warn Suu Kyi of his premonition that she would be assassinated by terrorists, Nyan Win said. Suu Kyi acknowledges that she allowed him to stay for two days because he said he was too tired and ill to leave immediately.

Yettaw also secretly went to her house late last year but did not meet Suu Kyi. He testified that security personnel observed him during both of his visits but did not try to stop him, Nyan Win said.

Suu Kyi's case and North Korea's recent nuclear test were major topics at a meeting of foreign ministers from the European Union and the 10-nation Association of Southeast Nations in the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh.

The meeting's closing statement Thursday made no direct demand for Suu Kyi's immediate release.

But Jan Kohout, deputy prime minister of the Czech Republic and the meeting's co-chairman, said that "we are still deeply concerned over Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi's detention and (urge) that she should be released immediately."

Myanmar Deputy Foreign Minister Maung Myint said it was inappropriate for the meeting to take up Suu Kyi's cases, because it breached the region's traditional policy of noninterference in each other's affairs.

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