Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Rare Access Granted at Trial

They have bamboo rods—they’re standing along
the roads and streets surrounding the prison every day."

-- Witness
After an international outcry, Burma's ruling generals let diplomats and a handful of reporters into a high-profile trial.

BANGKOK (RFA)—Reporters and diplomats were granted rare access Wednesday to observe trial proceedings against opposition leader Aung San Suu Ky, in a bizarre case that rights groups and foreign governments view as aimed at keeping her detained during next year’s elections.

“Yes, we saw Aung San Suu Kyi, and she appeared very strong,” Joselito Chad Jacinto, charge d'affaires at the Philippine Embassy, said after the court hearing at Insein Central Prison. Aung San Suu Kyi, 63 and a Nobel peace laureate, has reportedly been ill recently.

"She sat listening intently and alertly to what was going on," he said, according to the Associated Press. "She exuded a type of aura which can be described as moving, quite awe-inspiring."

But diplomats and her supporters still maintain that the trial, which was opened to some 30 diplomats and 10 journalists, is staged.

“All the paraphernalia of the courtroom was there, the judges the prosecution, the defense. But I think this is a story where the conclusion is already scripted I'm afraid," British Ambassador Mark Canning told the British Broadcasting Corp. "No, I don't have any confidence in the outcome."

No access to media

Aung San Suu Kyi has been in detention without trial for more than 13 of the last 19 years. She is charged with violating the terms of her house arrest after a U.S. man whose motives remain unclear swam to her home and stayed there without permission for two days. She faces five years in prison.

A spokesman for Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD party, Nyan Win, said the party “welcomes the junta's move allowing foreign diplomats to the hearing. However, other citizens interested in the case should be allow to the trial.”

He also said that since she was moved to Insein Prison, she hasn’t been permitted access to radio broadcasts or newspapers.

Witnesses said that thugs hired by the junta were serving as security for the trial for 3,000 kyat and a boxed lunch every day.

“They have bamboo rods—they’re standing along the roads and streets surrounding the prison every day,” one witness said.

Aung San Suu Kyi is on trial with two female supporters who live with her, and John Yettaw, 53, who her lawyers say swam to her lakeside home under the cover of darkness earlier this month and sneaked in uninvited.

Trial seen as ploy

"She asked why I had come. I showed her the warrant and a picture of John Yettaw," the police investigator, Captain Tin Zaw Tun, told the court of his search of Aung San Suu Kyi's lakeside home.

Another police officer testified that Aung San Suu Kyi told him that she had provided Yettaw with rehydration salts and several meals.

She was to have been freed on May 27 after six years under house arrest. This trial is widely regarded as a pretext to keep her in detention during polls scheduled for next year.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), in an unusually strong statement, expressed "grave concern" Tuesday about the trial and called again for her immediate release and adequate medical care.

U.S. State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said the charges against Aung San Suu Kyi were "unjustified" and called for her unconditional release and that of more than 2,100 other political prisoners.

In a statement, Singapore said its ambassador in Burma, Robert Chua, had met with Aung San Suu Kyi, who “informed the diplomatic representatives that she and her two housekeepers are well and being well treated by the Myanmar [Burmese] authorities.”

She “also informed the three diplomatic representatives that there could be many opportunities for national reconciliation if all parties so wished…She also expressed the view that it was not too late for something good to come out of this unfortunate incident,” the statement said.

Original reporting by RFA's Burmese service, with additional reporting by news agencies. Translated by Khin May Zaw. Burmese service director: Nancy Shwe. Executive producer: Susan Lavery. Edited in English by Sarah Jackson-Han.

Published: May 20, 2009

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