Burma: American Visitor Meant to Embarrass Gov't
RANGOON, Burma – Burma's junta alleged Friday that anti-government forces engineered an American's illegal visit to the house of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi to embarrass the government and aggravate its relations with the West.
Authorities detained John W. Yettaw after he left Suu Kyi's heavily guarded compound earlier this month and charged the Nobel peace laureate with violating terms of her house arrest by allowing the American to stay at her home without official permission.
The offense is punishable by up to five years' imprisonment. Her trial began Monday.
Responding to anger abroad over the trial, Burma's Foreign Minister U Nyan Win was quoted Friday in the New Light of Burma as telling his Japanese counterpart that the Yettaw incident was manufactured by internal and external anti-government forces — a term usually referring to pro-democracy groups.
At a time when the United States, Japan and the European Union were reviewing their policies toward Burma, Nyan Win said "it was likely that this incident was trumped up to intensify international pressure on Burma by internal and external anti-government elements who do not wish to see the positive changes in those countries' policies toward Burma," the paper said.
The paper reported that Japanese Foreign Minister Hirofumi Nakasone called on May 18 to express his concern about Suu Kyi's trial.
Critics have accused the junta of using Yettaw's visit as a pretext to keeping Suu Kyi in detention through polls scheduled for next year — the culmination of the junta's "roadmap to democracy," which has been criticized as a fig leaf for continued military rule.
Suu Kyi, who is being held at the infamous Insein Prison along with scores of other political prisoners, had been scheduled to be freed May 27 after six consecutive years under house arrest. She has been in detention without trial for more than 13 of the past 19 years.
Suu Kyi is standing trial with two female members of her party who live with her, and Yettaw, the American man who triggered the charges by swimming across a lake to Suu Kyi's property under the cover of darkness earlier this month to enter uninvited into her home.
Suu Kyi's lawyers have said she asked Yettaw to leave, but allowed him to stay for two days after he said he was too tired and ill to immediately swim back across the lake.
Authorities have now removed the last of the barriers that served as roadblocks on either end of the street where Suu Kyi's house is located, and supporters said they feared it was a sign she won't be returning home soon.
The day she was taken away to prison, the barbed wire barricades were pulled aside, and then hauled away the next day. The poles that were used to block the road were taken away after dark Thursday.
The trial this week has mostly focused on the motives and methods of Yettaw, a part-time contractor from Falcon, Missouri. The trial was briefly opened to reporters and diplomats Wednesday but otherwise has been closed.
On Thursday, the prosecution showed a video said to have been shot by Yettaw at Suu Kyi's house during his latest visit, according to one of her lawyers, Nyan Win. The video had a voice-over, apparently by Yettaw, which was translated into the Burma language in the courtroom.
"The video taken by Mr. Yettaw showed the portrait of Gen. Aung San (Burma's independence hero and Suu Kyi's father), a bookshelf and Mr. Yettaw himself standing in front of the portrait of Gen. Aung San.
"He was saying he is now in Yangon, at Aung San Suu Kyi's house and that he asked permission to film Aung San Suu Kyi but she refused. 'She looked nervous and I am sorry for that,' he was saying that, in his video," Nyan Win told reporters.
On Wednesday, 23 objects seized from Suu Kyi's house were presented as evidence, the most striking items being two black cloaks or robes described as being of a type worn by Muslim women, along with scarves to cover the face, two long skirts, and sunglasses.
Clearly implying that they could be used in an escape attempt, the prosecutor asked the police officer who seized the items whether "If a person wears this woman's Muslim dress and sunglasses, will you be able to identify the person?" The officer replied "No.'
Yettaw on Wednesday also offered the first public clue to the motive for his actions, suggesting in a courtroom exchange that he had a premonition someone would try to kill the pro-democracy leader, according to Nyan Win, who attended the proceedings.
His wife, Betty Yettaw, has said her husband wanted to talk to Suu Kyi as part of his research on forgiveness and resilience.