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Myanmar court accepts case against Suu Kyi

Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi entered a not guilty plea to charges that she violated the terms of her house arrest, as indications mounted that she will be convicted and imprisoned for sheltering an uninvited American visitor.
AP | By HT Correspondent, Myanmar
UPDATED ON MAY 23, 2009 08:33 AM IST

Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi entered a not guilty plea to charges that she violated the terms of her house arrest, as indications mounted that she will be convicted and imprisoned for sheltering an uninvited American visitor.

Her plea on Friday came after the special court trying her agreed to accept the charges and proceed with her trial, which could lead to her being sentenced to five years in prison.

The court's action came after the military regime's foreign minister claimed the foreign intruder was part of an anti-government plot, and roadblocks near Suu Kyi's home were removed, suggesting she may not be returning any time soon.

Myanmar's courts operate under the influence of the ruling military, and almost always deal harshly with political dissidents. British Ambassador Mark Canning, reflecting the widespread assumption that Suu Kyi - a Nobel Peace Prize winner - will be found guilty, on Wednesday described the trial as "a story where the conclusion is already scripted."

International criticism of the case against Suu Kyi has been strong.

The ruling junta has stood firm for two decades against international pressure to reach an accommodation with the country's pro-democracy movement. Human rights groups estimate it holds more than 2,100 political prisoners.

After testimony had finished for the day at the trial in Insein prison, presiding judge Thaung Nyunt declared the court has accepted the charge that Suu Kyi, 63, had violated the terms of her house arrest, according to her lawyer, Nyan Win.

She has been in detention without trial for more than 13 of the past 19 years, including the last six. When the judge asked her, "Are you guilty?" she replied "I am not guilty." Asked why, she said "I am not guilty because I have not broken any law."

The two female companions who stay with Suu Kyi, and the American, John W Yettaw, whose intrusion into her lakeside home triggered the case, also pleaded not guilty to the same charge. Their trial began last Monday, and will continue after the weekend.

"We will certainly win the case if it is conducted according to law. But we cannot say if there are other things to be considered. They have not been able to prove that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is guilty of breaking the law," said Nyan Win. 'Daw' is a term of respect used for older women.

He added that a verdict could be reached in 10 to 14 days. Earlier Friday, the junta alleged that Yettaw's visit was meant to embarrass the regime and aggravate its already poor relations with the West.

Myanmar Foreign Minister U Nyan Win was quoted in the state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper as telling his Japanese counterpart that the incident was manufactured by "internal and external anti-government elements" - a term usually referring to pro-democracy groups.

At a time when the US, Japan and the European Union were reviewing their policies toward Myanmar, the foreign minister said "it was likely that this incident was trumped up to intensify international pressure on Myanmar by internal and external anti-government elements who do not wish to see the positive changes in those countries' policies toward Myanmar."

The report said that Japanese Foreign Minister Hirofumi Nakasone had called on May 18 to express his concern about Suu Kyi's trial. In what her supporters are taking as an ominous sign, the authorities have now removed the last of the barriers that were used to maintain roadblocks on either end of the street where her house is located. This was seen as suggesting she may not be returning home any time soon.

Suu Kyi had been scheduled to be freed on May 27. The charges against her are widely seen as a pretext for the government to keep her detained during polls it has scheduled for next year as the culmination of a "roadmap to democracy," which has been criticized as a fig leaf for continued military rule.

The UN Security Council called on Friday for the release of all political prisoners in Myanmar, including Suu Kyi, and expressed concern at the "political impact" of the pro-democracy leader's current trial.

A press statement agreed to by all 15 council members reiterated the need for Myanmar's military rulers "to create the necessary conditions for a genuine dialogue" with Suu Kyi and other opposition and minority groups "to achieve an inclusive national reconciliation."

Previous expressions of UN concern have failed to achieve any lasting concessions from the junta.

Authorities detained Yettaw after he left Suu Kyi's heavily guarded compound earlier this month. He swam across a lake to her property under the cover of darkness earlier this month to enter uninvited into her home. Her lawyers have said she allowed him to stay for two days after he said he was too tired and ill to immediately swim back across the lake.

Suu Kyi also told them she did not want him or the security personnel in charge of her house to get into trouble because of her, Nyan Win said.

She told them the incident occurred because of a security breach - the house is tightly guarded - so the responsibility for allowing Yettaw in lies with the security forces.

When he pleaded not guilty, Yettaw, 53, explained it was because he had a dream that Suu Kyi would be assassinated and he had come to warn her that her life was in danger.

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