Myanmar’s military junta defended its prosecution of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, saying on Sunday she is not above the law and warning other countries not to meddle in its internal affairs.
The comments marked the first time a top official from the reclusive regime has appeared in a public forum to defend its actions, which have drawn widespread international condemnation, including from its closest neighbors in Southeast Asia.
“If offenders are not (prosecuted), anarchy will prevail, and there will be breach of peace and security,” Myanmar’s Deputy Defense Minister Maj Gen Aye Myint told a security conference.
The junta has charged Suu Kyi with violating the terms of her house arrest by sheltering American John W Yettaw after he secretly swam to her lakeside residence in early May. Suu Kyi’s lawyers have said Yettaw sneaked onto her property and have blamed security guards who monitor her house arrest for the breach.
Suu Kyi has been in detention without trial for more than 13 of the past 19 years. If convicted by the court which operates under the influence of the ruling military and almost always deals harshly with political dissidents Suu Kyi faces up to five years in jail.
Aye Myint said Suu Kyi was charged because she allowed a foreigner to stay in her house, communicated with him and provided him food and shelter instead of informing the police.
The police noted that Suu Kyi “committed a cover-up of the truth by her failure to report an illegal immigrant,” he told the Shangri-La Dialogue, an annual forum of defense ministers, academics, experts and analysts.
“Thus there was no option but to proceed with legal proceedings,” he said. “It is the universal legal principle that no one is above the law.”
He said other countries “should refrain from interfering in internal affairs that will affect peace and security of the region.” Otherwise, it “may possibly affect mutual understanding and friendly relations” with other countries, he said.
He said the junta was committed to democracy and will hold elections in 2010, but few people believe the ruling generals will give up power easily. They see the election promise as a delaying tactic to keep international criticism at bay, and some have suggested Suu Kyi’s trial is meant to ensure she is in jail during that vote.
Suu Kyi’s party overwhelmingly won the last elections held in 1990 but was not allowed to take power by the military, which has run the country since 1962.
Aye Myint’s speech was followed by a question-and-answer session, but no delegate asked him for clarifications, an indication that his comments were not taken seriously and few expected convincing answers.
Earlier on Sunday, Britain’s Minister for International Defense and Security Ann Taylor told the conference that the world is behind Suu Kyi and others struggling for democracy in Myanmar, also known as Burma.
“The people of Burma have suffered half a century of isolation and conflict,” Taylor said. “But Aung San Suu Kyi is not alone. People all around are standing with her and the Burmese people,” she said.
“We say to the generals: Now is the time for transition to democracy, starting with the release of Aung San Suu Kyi,” she said.