Monday, June 1, 2009

Chronicle of a Cooked-up Crime

MAY — JUNE, 2009 - VOLUME 17 NO.3

(Illustration: Harn Lay/The Irrawaddy)

As rumors swirled around the arrest and trial of Aung San Suu Kyi and her uninvited American visitor, The Irrawaddy pieced together the known facts of this bizarre case

Aung San Suu Kyi’s lakeside home on Rangoon’s University Avenue is one of the city’s most secure locations, with at least a dozen security men posted outside its high fence at all times.

In late 2008, an American citizen, Vietnam War veteran John William Yettaw, stayed for several weeks in the Thai-Burmese border town of Mae Sot and talked openly there about a visit he claimed to have made in November to Suu Kyi’s home. He reportedly told Mae Sot residents he had swum to her waterfront compound across Rangoon’s Inya Lake. According to National League for Democracy sources, Suu Kyi asked her personal physician to report the incident to the authorities, but they did nothing.

Yettaw returned to Thailand from his home in the US earlier this year after telling his family he was working on a book. on May 2, he entered Burma again.

Immigration officials at Rangoon International Airport, trained to spot suspicious visitors, issued him with a tourist visa.

Yettaw booked into Rangoon’s Beauty Land Hotel.

On May 7, the state-run newspaper The New Light of Myanmar broke the news of Yettaw’s arrest, reporting that he had spent two days and nights at Suu Kyi’s home after swimming there across Inya Lake. The report said that Yettaw set off during the night of Sunday, May 3, and stayed at Suu Kyi’s home until late on May 5. At 5.30 a.m. On May 6, security officials spotted him swimming in the lake near the International Business Center on Pyay Road, more than a mile from Suu Kyi’s home, and arrested him. Yettaw is 53 years old, suffers from asthma and diabetes and lives modestly in the US on an ex-serviceman’s disability pension. He allegedly strapped a pair of home-made flippers to his feet to help him swim to Suu Kyi’s home and back.

In 2003, Burmese authorities argued they were putting Suu Kyi under house arrest for her own safety. The lapse in security that allowed Yettaw to enter her home was not an issue, however, when Suu Kyi was transferred to Rangoon’s Insein Prison on May 14 and charged with violating the conditions of her detention order. Under the terms of the order, unauthorized visitors are banned. Yettaw’s fateful visit was clearly not authorized—and certainly not by Suu Kyi.

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