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Myanmar ignores US request to see detained citizen

The US Embassy said on Friday that the Myanmar government has ignored its repeated requests for access to an American arrested for allegedly swimming to the lakeside home of detained Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and sneaking inside.

world Updated: May 08, 2009 18:54 IST

The US Embassy said on Friday that the Myanmar government has ignored its repeated requests for access to an American arrested for allegedly swimming to the lakeside home of detained Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and sneaking inside.

The man's motives remained unclear, and the embassy said so far the only information the military-ruled government has offered is the man's name, John William Yettaw, and his passport number.

A state-controlled newspaper has reported that the American stayed for two nights until he was caught by authorities on Wednesday morning, swimming away. That information has not been independently verified.

Suu Kyi, the opposition leader who has been under house arrest for 13 of the past 19 years, is rarely allowed visitors by Myanmar's ruling junta. Her home is tightly guarded and she is allowed visits only by her doctor. On infrequent occasions she is allowed out under tight guard to meet with fellow party leaders and visiting U N representatives.

"We were informed by the Foreign Ministry yesterday that an American was arrested," said embassy spokesman Richard Mei, who said the notification came on Thursday, a day after the arrest. "We have made repeated requests to see him, and we still have not been granted access."

"Hopefully we will see him and have a chance to talk to him," Mei said. "We want to find out what the story is." Asian diplomats in Myanmar quietly expressed concern that Suu Kyi could face stricter penalties if authorities found that she allowed the man to stay overnight at her house.

They spoke on condition of anonymity saying they were not authorized to speak to journalists. One of many strict rules the junta imposes on citizens is that they must notify local officials about any overnight visitor who is not a family member. The law also states that foreigners are not allowed to spend the night at a local's home.

Some members of Suu Kyi's party, the National League for Democracy, have been jailed for about two weeks for violating that law.

Nyan Win, a spokesman for the party, noted that newspaper reports about the American's arrest said he had entered Suu Kyi's home but did not say he had met her. It remained unclear if the man was able to contact Suu Kyi.

"I'm not really concerned she could be penalized for this break-in because she didn't invite him in," Nyan Win said, adding that it was worrisome how easily the man accessed Suu Kyi's tightly guarded home.

"My main concern is her security." The state-run Myanma Ahlin newspaper reported on Thursday that the man had confessed to swimming across Yangon's Inya Lake to Suu Kyi's home on Sunday night and then "secretly entered the house and stayed there." It said he left on Tuesday and was arrested when "security personnel found a suspicious-looking foreigner swimming" early Wednesday morning.

It would be the first known instance that anyone has sneaked into Suu Kyi's compound or swam across the lake in an attempt to get there.

Suu Kyi's home is more than a 1 1/4 mile- (2-kilometer) swim from where the American was reportedly found.

Suu Kyi has been held without trial for leading an internationally hailed movement for democracy in Myanmar, which has been ruled by the military with an iron fist since 1962. Her party won Myanmar's last elections in 1990, a result the junta never honored.

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