Myanmar's Suu Kyi prepares to testify in court

Myanmar's pro-democracy leader to testify in a trial widely expected to end with extension of her house arrest or prison term of up to 5 years.

Aung San Suu Kyi 248.88 ap (photo credit: AP)
Aung San Suu Kyi 248.88 ap
(photo credit: AP)
Myanmar's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi was to testify Tuesday in a trial widely expected to end with an extension of her house arrest or a prison term of up to five years. The charges against the 63-year-old Nobel Peace laureate of illegally harboring an American man - who swam across a lake to enter her residence uninvited - were widely considered a pretext to keep her detained ahead of elections the military goverment has planned for next year. Her latest round of house arrest - extended every year since 2003 - was supposed to end this week, and a top police official said Tuesday that the military government had considered releasing her on "humanitarian grounds." But the junta canceled that decision earlier this month when the "unexpected incident of the intrusion of the American happened," Brig. Gen. Myint Thein said. Suu Kyi has been charged with violating conditions of her house arrest by sheltering John W. Yettaw, 53, at her home for two days, communicating with him and providing him food. Suu Kyi's lawyers have said she did not invite him and asked him to leave, but allowed him to stay when he said he was too ill to leave immediately. Suu Kyi is expected to be found guilty in a trial that has brought worldwide outrage. She pleaded not guilty Friday, but Myanmar's courts operate under the influence of the ruling military, and almost always deal harshly with political dissidents. Two women assistants who live with her, and Yettaw, also have pleaded not guilty to the same charge. Reporters and diplomats were allowed into the courtroom for Tuesday's session, the second time during the trial that such rare access has been granted. Prosecutors Monday withdrew nine remaining witnesses, paving the way for Suu Kyi to testify Tuesday. Nyan Win, one of Suu Kyi's lawyers, said Monday her defense team was unhappy that it was not given sufficient time to consult with her about her planned testimony. Asked Monday if he thought the court is rushing through the trial, Nyan Win said, "It is very certain." Suu Kyi's side does not contest the facts of the case - that Yettaw swam across a lake to her property under the cover of darkness earlier this month to enter uninvited into her home. Suu Kyi told her lawyers she did not report him because she did not want him or security personnel in charge of her house to get into trouble because of her. Suu Kyi 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, from Falcon, Missouri, explained he had a dream that Suu Kyi would be assassinated and he had come to warn her that her life was in danger. Suu Kyi rose to prominence as a leader of the 1988 democracy uprising, which was brutally suppressed. Her father was the greatly revered Aung San, who led the independence struggle against Great Britain but was assassinated in 1947. Suu Kyi's party won general elections in 1990 but the military, which has ruled the country since 1962, never accepted the results. The government has scheduled elections next year as the culmination of a "roadmap to democracy," which has been criticized as a fig leaf for continued military rule. Suu Kyi's trial comes weeks after the European Union announced it was stepping up humanitarian aid to the impoverished country, also known as Burma, and the United States said it was reviewing its policy - including speculation that it might soften sanctions the regime says have crippled its economy. But now the EU is talking of introducing tougher sanctions in response to the trial, and the administration of President Barack Obama has announced it will continue its economic penalties. Already bombarded by criticism from Western nations, the Myanmar junta turned on neighboring Thailand, a partner in the 10-nation Association of Southeast Nations, or ASEAN, accusing it of violating the bloc's principle by interfering in Myanmar's internal affairs. Thailand, the group's current chairman, last week expressed "grave concern" over the trial, saying "the honor and the credibility of the (Myanmar government) are at stake." A statement from Myanmar issued Monday responded: "It is sadly noted that (Thailand) failed to preserve the dignity of ASEAN, the dignity of Myanmar and the dignity of Thailand."