Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Official: Burma Had Planned to Release Suu Kyi

The Irrawaddy News

RANGOON (AP)— Burma considered releasing pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest this week, but canceled the decision after an American stayed at her house in violation of the country's security law, a top police official said Tuesday.

Suu Kyi was expected to testify Tuesday in a trial that observers say the military government is trying to wrap up quickly. She is widely expected to be found guilty, and faces up to five years in prison.

Brig-Gen Myint Thein told reporters and diplomats that authorities had been talking of releasing the 63-year-old Nobel Peace Prize laureate Wednesday from nearly six years of house arrest on "humanitarian grounds and because she is the daughter of the country's founder Aung San."

But earlier this month, Thein said the "unexpected incident of the intrusion of the American happened."

Suu Kyi has been charged with violating conditions of her house arrest by sheltering John W. Yettaw at her home, communicating with him and providing him food. Yettaw, 53, swam across a lake to her residence earlier this month, but Suu Kyi's lawyers say she did not invite him and asked him to leave.

She pleaded not guilty Friday, but Burma's courts operate under the influence of the ruling military, and almost always deal harshly with political dissidents. Two women assistants who live with her, and Yettaw, also pleaded not guilty to the same charge.

Reporters and diplomats were allowed into the courtroom for Tuesday's session, the second time during the trial that such rare access has been granted.

The charges against Suu Kyi are widely seen as a pretext for the government to keep her detained during elections it has scheduled for next year as the culmination of a "roadmap to democracy," which has been criticized as a fig leaf for continued military rule.

Prosecutors Monday withdrew nine remaining witnesses, paving the way for Suu Kyi to testify Tuesday.

Nyan Win, one of Suu Kyi's lawyers, said Monday her defense team was unhappy that it was not given sufficient time to consult with her about her planned testimony.

Asked Monday if he thought the court is rushing through the trial, Nyan Win said, "It is very certain."

Suu Kyi's side does not contest the facts of the case—that Yettaw swam across a lake to her property under the cover of darkness earlier this month to enter uninvited into her home. Her lawyers have said she allowed him to stay for two days after he said he was too tired and ill to immediately swim back.

Suu Kyi told her lawyers she did not report him because she did not want him or security personnel in charge of her house to get into trouble because of her.

Suu Kyi told them the incident occurred because of a security breach—the house is tightly guarded—so the responsibility for allowing Yettaw in lies with the security forces.

When he pleaded not guilty, Yettaw, from Falcon, Missouri, explained he had a dream that Suu Kyi would be assassinated and he had come to warn her that her life was in danger.

Suu Kyi rose to prominence as a leader of the 1988 democracy uprising, which was brutally suppressed. Her father was the greatly revered Aung San, who led the independence struggle against Great Britain but was assassinated in 1947.

Suu Kyi's party won general elections in 1990 but the military, which has ruled the country since 1962, never accepted the results.

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