Monday, May 18, 2009

Myanmar junta to try opposition leader and her American visitor

YANGON, Myanmar (CNN) -- Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and an American man who recently swam to her lakeside home are scheduled to stand trial Monday.
Aung San Suu Kyi was first detained in 1989 after mass protests against the military government.

Aung San Suu Kyi was first detained in 1989 after mass protests against the military government.

John Yettaw is charged with immigration violations and trespassing into a restrictive area, charges that carry a maximum sentence of five years in prison. He is accused of staying overnight in Suu Kyi's lakeside home earlier this month, violating the conditions of her house arrest, according to the country's ruling military junta, which rarely grants her visitors.

The 1991 Nobel Peace Prize laureate and two of her maids have been detained under Section 22 of the country's legal code, a law against subversion, according to Nyan Win, spokesman for Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy.

Suu Kyi was scheduled to be released from house arrest later this month after being incarcerated 13 of the last 19 years. Suu Kyi is now being held in a specially built area of Insein Prison near Yangon, where Yettaw is also detained, a U.S. Embassy official told CNN on Friday.

The timing of Suu Kyi's detention raised suspicion among her supporters, who said the government's action Thursday is an excuse to extend her house arrest.
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"This is the cunning plan of the regime to put Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in continuous detention beyond the six years allowed by the law they used to justify the detention of her," said the U.S. Campaign for Burma, a pro-democracy group fighting for her release. "Daw" is an honorific.

Suu Kyi's lawyer, U Kyi Win, blamed the Nobel Peace Prize laureate's prison detention on Yettaw. Her trial is expected to last for some time, said Nyan Win. Video Watch former U.S. president Jimmy Carter discuss Aung San Suu Kyi »

Local media said the 53-year-old former military serviceman from Falcon, Missouri, swam almost two miles across Inya Lake on May 3 and sneaked into Suu Kyi's home. Police maintain a round-the-clock presence outside the house. And swimming in the lake is forbidden.

U Kyi Win told CNN that Yettaw arrived at his client's house May 3 and that she asked him to leave immediately. Win said Yettaw refused to leave, first saying he didn't want to swim in daylight for fear of being captured, and later blaming leg cramps. Yettaw finally left May 5.

Suu Kyi didn't tell authorities about the visit because she didn't want to get Yettaw or anyone else in trouble, Win said, nothing that several of her party members and supporters already are in jail. He added that Yettaw will likely be in the courtroom during the trial.

Little else is known about Yettaw's role in the Myanmar incident or his intentions, apart from local media reports that said Yettaw, a diabetic, told Suu Kyi's two housekeepers he was tired and hungry after the swim and they offered him food.

Yettaw appeared healthy and in good spirits at a hearing on Friday at Insein Prison, the U.S. Embassy official said.

The central Missouri man was not represented by a lawyer at the hearing, although the official said the embassy has requested one. It was unknown when or if Yettaw will receive legal representation, the official said.

The defense will argue that Yettaw entered Suu Kyi's home due to poor government security, said Win and Jared Genser, a Washington, D.C.-based lawyer who is one of the attorneys on her defense team.

"Frankly, she does not believe she did any offense," Genser said.

He noted that Insein Prison houses many political prisoners, and the conditions are poor for even a young, healthy person. Tuberculosis is rampant, mosquitoes and other insects are numerous, and nighttime temperatures at the prison frequently reach up to 90 degrees Fahrenheit (29-32 Celsius) with no fresh air traveling through the facility, Genser said.

Suu Kyi, 63, has been the face of Myanmar's pro-democracy movement and the focus of a global campaign to free her. Her National League for Democracy party won over 80 percent of the legislative seats in 1990, but she was disqualified from serving because of her house arrest, and the military junta ignored the results.

It was during her house arrest that she won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991.

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