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Myanmar's Suu Kyi begins house arrest amid outrage

Myanmar democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi awoke at her lakeside home on Wednesday to begin the first full day of her latest house arrest, following her globally condemned conviction that lawyers said they would promptly appeal.

world Updated: Aug 12, 2009 19:39 IST

Myanmar democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi awoke at her lakeside home on Wednesday to begin the first full day of her latest house arrest, following her globally condemned conviction that lawyers said they would promptly appeal.

Only China, Myanmar's top trading partner and key ally, asked the world to accept the decision.

"The international community should fully respect Myanmar's judicial sovereignity," Foreign Ministry spokesperson Jiang Yu said in a statement on Wednesday. He said China hopes Myanmar can "gradually realize stability, democracy and development."

Suu Kyi, a 64-year-old Nobel Peace Prize laureate, was convicted on Tuesday by a Myanmar court of violating her previous house arrest by allowing an uninvited American who swam to her home to stay for two days. She has already spent 14 of the past 20 years under house arrest but on Tuesday marked her first conviction. Suu Kyi now begins 18 more months in detention behind a new barbed-wire fence that was erected at the lakeside entrance to her home, where American John Yettaw had entered.

She was initially sentenced to three years in prison with hard labor, but it was quickly reduced to 18 months of house arrest by the military-ruled country's chief, Senior General Than Shwe. That will remove her from the political scene next year when the junta plans to hold its first elections since 1990, when her party won overwhelmingly but was never allowed to take power. Suu Kyi's lawyers said they would appeal the conviction immediately and were applying for permission to visit her. Later on Wednesday, witnesses said a group of her lawyers visited her home. They spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

According to the regulations for her new house arrest, Suu Kyi can receive visitors at her home only with permission from authorities.

The country's state-run newspapers, which many normally don't bother to read, were sold out on Wednesday with people eager to learn about the verdict.

"I am not surprised that (Suu Kyi) was sentenced to three years because that is what the government wants to do, keep her locked up during the elections," said Soe Nyunt, a 34-year-old grocery shop owner.

"It was at least a relief that Daw Suu is kept in her house. I had thought the government would keep her inside Insein prison," said Moe Moe, a 45-year-old school teacher. Daw is a respectful term for a woman.

Her conviction and continued detention were condemned by world leaders and sparked demonstrations in cities from London to Japan on Tuesday. The European Union began preparing new sanctions against the country's military regime, and a group of 14 Nobel laureates, including the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, called on the UN Security Council to take strong action against the country. President Barack Obama termed the conviction a violation of the universal principle of human rights and said Suu Kyi should be released immediately.

US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called for the release of more than 2,000 political prisoners, including Yettaw, who was convicted along with Suu Kyi and sentenced to seven years' imprisonment with hard labor.

Yettaw's lawyer, Khin Maung Oo, said on Wednesday that he was preparing documents to file an appeal.

"I will try my utmost to get my client deported as quickly as possible, especially because of his health condition," Oo said, adding that he did not immediately know whether Yettaw was being detained in a cell or at the prison hospital.
Yettaw, 53, spent a week in the hospital for epileptic seizures before the verdict. He is also said to suffer from asthma and diabetes.

"How is he going to do hard labor if he is so ill?" his former wife, Yvonne Yettaw, said on a telephone call from Palm Springs, California. "Maybe they'll realize he won't make it seven years, and they'll send him home."

Virginia Sen. Jim Webb will visit Myanmar later this week as part of a five-nation Asia tour, prompting some speculation that he will try to negotiate Yettaw's handover to the US, a prospect his lawyer said was unlikely.

"It is impossible that Mr. Yettaw will be sent back with the visiting senator. I think my client will finally be deported but not immediately," Khin Maung Oo said.

Webb's visit will be the first by a member of the US Congress to Myanmar in over a decade. He is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's East Asia and Pacific Affairs Subcommittee.