, YANGON, May 14 – Myanmar’s military junta charged pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi Thursday with breaching the terms of her house arrest over an incident in which a US man swam across a lake and entered her home.
The 63-year-old opposition leader faces trial on Monday in what critics said was an excuse for Myanmar’s generals to extend the latest period of her detention, which was due to expire in less than two weeks.
The Nobel Peace Prize laureate and her two maids appeared in court at the notorious Insein Prison near Yangon, hours after police whisked her away from the residence where she has been detained most of the past two decades.
"The authorities have charged Aung San Suu Kyi and her two maids" under the Law Safeguarding the State from the Dangers of Subversive Elements, lawyer Hla Myo Myint said.
Suu Kyi and the others face a prison term of between three and five years, the lawyer said, which would leave her behind bars next year when the junta has said it will make good on a long-standing vow to hold fresh elections.
US national John Yettaw, who was detained last week for sneaking into her off-limits residence and staying there for two days before he was caught, was also charged with breaching a security law and immigration conditions, he said.
Aung San Suu Kyi, whose health has been fragile in recent days, would not be allowed to return home while the proceedings are under way but would be held at a special house on the grounds of the prison, said her main lawyer Kyi Win.
He pinned the blame on Yettaw — whom authorities in Yangon have described as a 53-year-old Vietnam War veteran — saying that Aung San Suu Kyi had asked him to leave her house.
"We have to blame him," Kyi Win said. "He is a fool."
Kyi Win said before the court hearing that Aung San Suu Kyi "wanted to say her health situation is good and that she is in good spirits."
Witnesses said a convoy flanked by police vehicles sped away from her crumbling residence early Thursday and arrived 15 minutes later at the prison, which holds many opponents of Myanmar’s military regime.
Her party said at the weekend that she was in poor health and called for her to be given urgent medical assistance after her doctor was arrested for questioning over the incident with the American.
She was unable to eat and put on an intravenous drip twice in the past week, suffering from dehydration and low blood pressure.
Aung San Suu Kyi has spent 13 of the past 19 years in virtual isolation in her home since the junta refused to recognise her party’s landslide victory in the country’s last elections in 1990.
She lives with her maids and is allowed to see only her lawyers and medical staff, with the occasional visit from UN representatives.
The most recent six-year period of detention is due to end on May 27.
The junta says it is keeping her locked away under a 1975 law to protect the state from "destructive elements."
"This is the cunning plan of the regime — to put Aung San Suu Kyi in continuous detention beyond the six years allowed by the law they used to justify the detention," Aung Din, executive director of the Washington-based US Campaign for Burma, said in a statement.
In Washington, which has imposed strict sanctions on the country formerly known as Burma, the US State Department said that Myanmar authorities had allowed a US diplomat to visit Yettaw on Wednesday.
The state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper said that Yettaw had confessed to arriving in Yangon on a tourist visa on May 2. He then swam to the compound the following night "and secretly entered the house and stayed there."
Myanmar official sources said the man had succeeded in meeting Aung San Suu Kyi during his time at the house before he was arrested in the early hours of May 6 while swimming back across the lake.
The newspaper said authorities confiscated his passport and a black haversack, torch, folding pliers, a camera, two US 100 dollar bills and some Myanmar currency notes.