Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Myanmar Opens Suu Kyi Trial to Media

YANGON, Myanmar – Myanmar's military regime unexpectedly opened pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi's trial to reporters Wednesday and allowed diplomats to meet her – rare concessions in the face of world-wide outrage over the handling of her case.
Army-ruled Myanmar opened the prison trial of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi to a limited number of diplomats and journalists.
The Nobel Peace laureate, who has been in detention without trial for more than 13 of the past 19 years, is accused of violating the terms of her house arrest after an American man stayed at her home without official permission. The offense is punishable by up to five years' imprisonment.
She is standing trial with two female members of her party who live with her, and John W. Yettaw, the American who swam to Ms. Suu Kyi's lakeside home under the cover of darkness earlier this month and sneaked in uninvited.
Ms. Suu Kyi, appearing alert and in good spirits, greeted diplomats and told them she hoped they could meet again "in better times," according to two diplomats who asked not to be identified because they were not authorized to speak to the press.
The trial adjourned Wednesday after two more police officers testified for the prosecution, including one who interviewed Ms. Suu Kyi after her arrest. He said Ms. Suu Kyi told him that she provided Mr. Yettaw with rehydration salts and several meals.
A township police officer also presented 23 items of evidence, including two black cloaks that resembled abayas typically found in Saudi Arabia, which Mr. Yettaw allegedly left behind for Ms. Suu Kyi. Two women modeled the all-black garb in the courtroom.

Ms. 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. The charges against her are widely seen as a pretext for her to stay in detention during 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.
Myanmar has been under military rule since 1962. It last held an election in 1990, but the junta refused to honor the results after a landslide victory by Ms. Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party.
The court on Monday rejected a request by Ms. Suu Kyi's lawyer for an open trial.
But on Wednesday, the country's Information Ministry ruled that five foreign correspondents and five local reporters could attend the trial's afternoon session. Authorities also said all embassies could send one diplomat.
A U.S. consular official had been allowed to attend the court sessions because Mr. Yettaw is standing trial, but the proceedings were otherwise closed to the press and public.
At the same time, authorities have agreed to allow the Thai, Singapore and Russian ambassadors to meet with Ms. Suu Kyi at the conclusion of her trial on Wednesday, said a diplomat, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak to the press. They are expected to meet her in a "guest house" within the prison compound where she is being held.
The move comes a day after the Association of Southeast Asian Nations expressed "grave concern" about developments related to Ms. Suu Kyi and reaffirmed calls for her immediate release. It also called for her to get adequate medical care and be treated with dignity.
"With the eyes of the international community on Myanmar at present, the honor and the credibility of the government of the Union of Myanmar are at stake," ASEAN said in a statement.
The comments were unusually tough for an organization that normally refrains from criticizing its member countries.
U.S. State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said the charges against Ms. Suu Kyi were "unjustified" and called for her unconditional release and that of more than 2,100 other political prisoners.
Ms. Suu Kyi's arrest could well derail a "softer" approach that the Obama administration had been searching for to replace sanctions and other get-tough policies that have done nothing to divert the junta's iron-fisted rule.
China, which as Myanmar's closest ally probably has the most influence with its ruling generals, has shown no sign it is exerting pressure on Myanmar's government.
"Myanmar's issue should be decided by the Myanmar people," Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said at a regular news briefing. "We hope that the relevant parties in Myanmar could realize reconciliation, stability and development through dialogue."
Hundreds of police in full riot gear, some armed with rifles, were deployed along all roads leading to Insein prison where the trial was taking place, while Ms. Suu Kyi supporters gathered peacefully nearby.
Two photographers working for Japanese media were detained Wednesday by authorities for 20 minutes after they took shots of diplomat's cars entering the prison, witnesses said. They were released after showing proof they were foreign correspondents.
The family of 53-year-old Mr. Yettaw, of Falcon Missouri, describes him as a well-intentioned admirer of Ms. Suu Kyi who merely wanted to interview her, unaware of the possible consequences. Ms. Suu Kyi's supporters have expressed anger at him for getting her into trouble.

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