Thursday, July 30, 2009

World awaits Suu Kyi verdict

* State media warns citizens against protests
* Verdict due tomorrow
* Suu Kyi faces five years in jail

( -MILITARY-RULED Burma's state media has warned citizens against inciting protests as the country awaits tomorrow's verdict in the trial of democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

The official New Light of Myanmar newspaper said in a comment piece aimed at anti-government factions that "we have to ward off subversive elements and disruptions".

"Look out if some arouse the people to take to the streets to come to power. In reality they are anti-democracy elements, not pro-democracy activists," the English-language article said.

Nobel laureate Suu Kyi faces up to five years in jail when a prison court passes judgment on charges that she breached the terms of her house arrest by sheltering US intruder, John Yettaw, who swam to her house.

Security has been tight for all the hearings, with memories still fresh in Burma of massive anti-junta protests led by Buddhist monks in 2007 which ended in a bloody crackdown.

A conviction is widely expected in the trial, which has sparked international outrage. Critics say it is a ploy by the regime to keep Suu Kyi locked up until after elections scheduled for 2010.

The editorial said "people who are serving their prison terms do not have the right to vote or to stand for election".

Man's misguided mission

Mr Yettaw, 53, donned home-made flippers to swim to Suu Kyi's home on what he said was a divine mission to save her.

The timing of his escapade in May, just days before her latest six years of house arrest were due to expire, prompted speculation that Mr Yettaw, a heavy-set Mormon father-of-seven and US military veteran, was an agent of the Government's regime.

Yet his testimony instead revealed a shambling and deeply religious man.

"He's a very sincere and pious person," his lawyer Khin Maung Oo said.

"There is no issue of him acting on someone's instruction to him or that some organisation provided money to him to do so."

Suu Kyi "obsession"

From his homeland, a picture emerged after his arrest of a troubled soul with a history of post-traumatic stress disorder exacerbated by the recent death of a son.

Mr Yettaw comes from the tiny hamlet of Falcon in rural Missouri, and was studying psychology.

One of his sons died two years ago in a motorcycling accident at the age of 17, and was buried on the family farm in Falcon, according to a website that tracks deaths of teenagers on Missouri's roads.

In an obituary notice, the website Operation Stop listed the family as adherents of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and named seven other children of Yettaw from his current and previous marriages.

According to US media reports and his lawyer, the detained American served in Vietnam, although he would have been only 17 when almost all US forces withdrew from the country.

Bizarre situation

Apparently fired up to do good deeds after the death of his son, and burdened with an obsession with Suu Kyi, he first visited her house in November 2008, when he walked along a drain beside Inya Lake and left a copy of the Book of Mormon at her house. He then escaped.

After he was finally caught by security forces emerging from the lake on May 6 after a second intrusion, his picture was splashed across the servile state media along with details of his apparent confession.

Exiled Burmese activists living in Thailand aired conspiracy theories that he had been paid by Burma's Government to supply a reason for extending Suu Kyi's detention.

The junta, meanwhile, suggested initially that the US was a "secret agent or her boyfriend" and blamed the whole incident on "internal and external anti-government elements" bent on toppling the regime.

It emerged during the trial that he had in fact been in contact with several exile groups in the neighbouring country before crossing over to Burma.

But it soon turned out that Mr Yettaw believed he was taking orders from just the highest authority of all - he had had a divine vision that "terrorists" would assassinate Suu Kyi and wanted to warn her.

"Yettaw said he came here because God asked him to," Nyan Win, one of Suu Kyi's lawyers, quoted him as telling the trial in May.

"In his vision, the terrorists assassinated Aung San Suu Kyi and then they put the blame for the assassination on the government, so that's why he came here to warn both of them," he said.

The circumstances of his night-time swim were equally bizarre.

Mr Yettaw took photographs of himself before his ill-fated adventure sporting home-made flippers for his swim, wearing a short-sleeved shirt and looking intensely into the lens.

State newspapers said authorities confiscated his passport and an amateurish "spy kit" of a black haversack, torch, folding pliers, a camera, two $US100 bills and some Burmese currency notes.

Trying to help

Suu Kyi told her trial that she only gave him "temporary shelter" because Mr Yettaw - a diabetic - complained of leg cramps and that she did not see which way he went when he finally departed on the evening of May 5.

Her lawyers at first described him as a "fool" who was to blame for her facing charges of house arrest.

But as his rambling testimony and frequent mentions of God emerged at the trial, her lawyers said she warned them and her supporters not to mock his religious beliefs.

From correspondents in Indonesia

Agence France-Presse

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