Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Myanmar's Suu Kyi set to testify as outcry grows

YANGON (AFP) – Myanmar pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi was set to testify at her trial, as European and Asian foreign ministers stepped up international pressure on the ruling junta to free her.

The military regime said it would reopen the court to diplomats and journalists for part of the day in a small concession to global criticism of its treatment of the 63-year-old Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

Critics say Aung San Suu Kyi's trial, on charges of breaching her house arrest over an incident in which a US man swam to her house, is an excuse for Myanmar's ruling generals to lock her up for elections due next year.

The spokesman for her opposition party, Nyan Win, said the defence felt that the mostly closed proceedings at the notorious Insein Prison near the main city of Yangon were being rushed through.

"She will be questioned by the judge (on Tuesday)... This was a surprise to us because we need more time to discuss the case with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi," Nyan Win said on Monday night.

Aung San Suu Kyi pleaded innocent last week to the charges, under which she faces between three and five years in jail. She has been detained for 13 of the last 19 years, mostly under house arrest.

The defence is also planning to call Tin Oo, the detained deputy leader of her opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party, as one of its witnesses.

Asked whether he thought the ruling junta would allow testimony by Tin Oo, who has been in jail or under house arrest since 2003, Nyan Win told AFP: "They have to, otherwise it will be one-sided."

Diplomats from all foreign embassies in Yangon had been told to report to the court early on Tuesday for a briefing by a magistrate, and they would be allowed to attend the trial later in the day, a western diplomat said.

Authorities will also allow 10 journalists from local media and 11 from international organisations to report on part of the proceedings.

The trial has provoked a storm of international outrage.

More than 40 foreign ministers from Asia and Europe meeting in the Vietnamese capital Hanoi this week are to jointly call for the release Aung San Suu Kyi, according to a draft statement.

"In light of the concern about the recent development to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, ministers... called for the early release of those under detention and the lifting of restriction placed on political parties," said the draft statement.

During a meeting Monday with Myanmar Foreign Minister Nyan Win on the sidelines of the talks, the EU called for Aung San Suu Kyi's immediate release.

In a rare move, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) last week expressed "grave concern" over her treatment. Myanmar's neighbours normally prefer not to be seen as intervening in the affairs of their members.

Myanmar issued an angry rebuttal to the statement on Monday.

The junta is also trying the American intruder, John Yettaw, and two female aides who live with Aung San Suu Kyi in the house.

Yettaw has said that he swam across a lake to the house to warn her of his belief that she would be assassinated, but the junta accuses Aung San Suu Kyi of illegally communicating with and sheltering him.

The latest, six-year period of Aung San Suu Kyi's house arrest is due to expire on Wednesday but Myanmar authorities have not said whether they will extend the term.

Aung San Suu Kyi and her deputy Tin Oo have both been detained since an incident in 2003 in which their motorcade came under attack during a political tour.

Wednesday is also the 19th anniversary of Myanmar's last democratic elections. The NLD won a landslide victory in the polls, but the military never allowed it to take office.

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