Burma Court Accepts Case Against Opposition Leader Suu Kyi
RANGOON, Burma – The court trying Burma pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi agreed to accept the charge she violated the terms of her house arrest after an American man swam to and entered her lakeside home.
The court's decision should allow her trial to proceed to a verdict that could see her jailed for up to five years. She has been in detention without trial for more than 13 of the past 19 years.
Earlier in the day, the ruling junta alleged that anti-government forces engineered the visit to Suu Kyi's house to embarrass the regime and aggravate its relations with the West.
Suu Kyi's lawyer said presiding judge Thaung Nyunt declared the court accepted the charge after testimony had finished for the day, and asked Suu Kyi if she was guilty.
"I am not guilty. I said I am not guilty because I have not broken any law," she replied, according to her lawyer Nyan Win, who spoke to reporters afterward.
The same charge was also accepted against two women companions who stay with Suu Kyi, and the American, John W. Yettaw. All pleaded not guilty.
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.
In what her supporters are taking as an ominous sign, authorities have now removed the last of the barriers that were used to maintain roadblocks on either end on the street where her house is located, suggesting she may not be returning home any time soon.
The day she was taken away to prison, the barbed wire barricades on University Avenue were pulled aside, and then hauled away the next day, and the poles that were used to block the road were taken away after dark on Thursday.
Responding to anger abroad over the trial, Burma's Foreign Minister U Nyan Win was quoted Friday in the New Light of Myanmar as telling his Japanese counterpart that the incident was manufactured by internal and external anti-government forces — a term that usually refers 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 and tried at Yangon's Insein Prison, had been scheduled to be freed May 27 after six consecutive years under house arrest.
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 Nyan Win.
The video had a voice-over narration, apparently by Yettaw, which was translated into the Burma language in the courtroom. In it, he said he had asked Suu Kyi to pose, but she had refused and looked nervous, so he felt sorry about the matter.
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. He repeated the assertion in court Friday when he pleaded not guilty.
Yettaw, 53, is a part-time contractor from Falcon, Missouri, who became interested in Suu Kyi when he visited neighboring Thailand last year, his family has said.
His wife, Betty Yettaw, said her husband wanted to talk to Suu Kyi as part of his research on forgiveness and resilience.