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Myanmar's Aung San Suu Kyi braces for trial verdict

world Updated: Aug 11, 2009 09:09 IST

Myanmar democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi could finally hear the verdict in her internationally condemned trial on Tuesday after a series of delays to a case in which she faces a possible five-year jail term.

Officials said the release from hospital late on Monday of a US man, who sparked the trial by swimming to the Nobel peace laureate's house, meant the judgment may now go ahead as scheduled at Yangon's notorious Insein Prison.

Diplomats and Myanmar authorities had warned that American John Yettaw's treatment for a series of epileptic fits could cause the latest in a series of postponements in the nearly three-month-old trial.

Diplomats from all foreign embassies in Yangon were permitted to attend Tuesday's scheduled hearing, official sources said. Most of the trial has been held behind closed doors.

Security forces sealed off the area around the prison, witnesses said.

But the status of Tuesday's hearing was still unclear, despite the confirmation by an official source that Yettaw had been discharged from hospital after a week of treatment.

"We have not got any information about Mr Yettaw. If he appears in court today the verdict could be reached. It will start at 10:00 am (0330 GMT), then we will know," Suu Kyi's lawyer Nyan Win told AFP.

"What I am hoping for is the unconditional release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi," he added, using a traditional Burmese term of respect.

The 64-year-old Suu Kyi is charged with breaching the conditions of her house arrest following the bizarre incident in which Yettaw, a former US military veteran, swam across a lake to reach her heavily secured villa in May.

The court is widely expected to hand down a guilty verdict but the sentence remains a matter of speculation, with many diplomats in Yangon predicting that she will be jailed or placed under house arrest for up to three years.

She has already been in detention for 14 of the past 20 years since Myanmar's ruling military junta refused to recognise her National League for Democracy's landslide victory in elections in 1990.

Seven senior members of the NLD applied to the authorities on Monday for permission to attend the verdict hearing, but had not yet received an answer, said May Win Myint, one of the NLD members involved.

"Daw Aung San Suu Kyi should be freed according to the law. We are also preparing for the worst," she said at the party's headquarters in Yangon.

The case is proving to be a major headache for Myanmar's powerful generals, caught between growing international pressure to free Suu Kyi and what critics say is their determination to keep her locked up during elections due in 2010.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon last week pressed the regime to free political prisoners, including Suu Kyi, after convening a meeting of a 14-nation advisory group on Myanmar that includes the United States, Britain, Russia and China.

A visit to Myanmar later this week by Democratic US Senator Jim Webb -- the first US lawmaker to visit the country in more than 10 years -- could further complicate the timing of the verdict, diplomats said.

Suu Kyi's lawyers have hailed the repeated delays as a sign that the judges have "serious legal problems" -- but analysts say the real decisions are being made by reclusive junta leader Than Shwe from the junta capital Naypyidaw.

Diplomats say that Myanmar's regime is listening closely to its allies China and Russia, which have so far steered clear of saying that the trial is an internal matter, thereby granting the junta a free hand.

State media at the weekend warned "power-craving" opportunists to abandon their plans of "trying to incite riots under the pretext of Daw Suu Kyi's case".

Yettaw's illness, after what the national police chief said was a campaign of religiously inspired fasting since his arrest in May, made fresh delays possible in the case.

Myanmar officials said at the weekend that Yettaw's health was improving and that he was "eating well".

The Mormon also faces up to five years in jail on charges of abetting Suu Kyi's breach of security laws, immigration violations and a municipal charge of illegal swimming.