Myanmar opens up Suu Kyi trial

May 20, 2009 12:00 am

, YANGON, May 20 – Myanmar’s military junta allowed reporters and diplomats to attend the trial of democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi Wednesday, in an apparent concession to international pressure over its handling of the case.

Authorities said 10 journalists, including an AFP reporter, and diplomats from all embassies in Yangon could watch the trial, after the first two days of hearings were held behind closed doors at the notorious Insein prison.

It is the first time the regime has opened up the trial of any leading activist. All previous details about the case have emerged in the tightly controlled state media or through Aung San Suu Kyi’s lawyers.

The Nobel Peace Prize winner faces up to five years in jail if convicted of charges of breaching her house arrest stemming from an incident in which an American man, John Yettaw, swam to her lakeside house.

"Ten journalists will go this afternoon to get the news from the trial," a Myanmar official told AFP.

Officials later said that one diplomat from each foreign embassy would also be allowed in, while witnesses said that several diplomatic cars had arrived at the prison gates.

Five of the reporters are from foreign news organisations and five from local journals and magazines, the official said. Photographs, television footage and recordings of the proceedings would still be banned.

The change of heart comes amid growing criticism of the trial of Aung San Suu Kyi, with even Myanmar’s normally placid Southeast Asian neighbours warning that the regime’s "honour and credibility" were at stake.

The junta turned several European diplomats away from the trial on Monday although it has allowed Yettaw to have a US consular officer present for the proceedings.

EU nations have said they were mulling an increase in sanctions over the handling of the trial, while US President Barack Obama formally extended American sanctions last week.

Critics say the military regime has trumped up the charges to keep Aung San Suu Kyi locked up during elections due next year, and also to beat a May 27 deadline when her latest six-year period of detention expires.

Nine Nobel Peace Prize winners became the latest to demand the 1991 laureate be freed, describing her trial as a "mockery" in a letter to the chiefs of the United Nations and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

The Costa Rican government said President Oscar Arias joined Desmond Tutu, Jody Williams, Rigoberta Menchu, Adolfo Perez Esquivel, Wangari Maathai, Shirin Ebadi, Betty Williams, and Mairead Corrigan Maguire in the demand.

The trial has so far heard from five police witnesses recounting the arrest of Yettaw, who used a pair of homemade flippers to swim across the lake and then spent two days at Aung San Suu Kyi’s residence earlier this month.

Yettaw, a 53-year-old former US army veteran from Missouri, and two female aides who live with the opposition leader are also on trial.

The government mouthpiece New Light of Myanmar newspaper gave more details of the case on Wednesday, saying Aung San Suu Kyi had offered Yettaw cookies and two meals during his time there.

It also said he had entered her house by climbing up a drain.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s lawyers have described Yettaw as a "fool" and said she only allowed the American, reportedly a diabetic, to stay after he complained of suffering from leg cramps.

She has spent 13 of the last 19 years in detention since the military regime refused to recognise her party’s landslide victory in the last elections to be held in Myanmar in 1990.

Generals have ruled the country since 1962 and are currently keeping more than 2,000 political activists in jail, many of them in appalling conditions inside Insein prison.


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