Suu Kyi trial reopens

May 21, 2009 12:00 am

, YANGON, May 21 – Myanmar’s military junta put the trial of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi behind closed doors again Thursday, after allowing diplomats and journalists to attend the hearing for just one day.

The regime had unexpectedly opened up the hearing at the notorious Insein prison on Wednesday in an apparent concession to fierce international criticism of the charges against the Nobel Peace Prize winner.

But it clamped down again Thursday, despite a warning from US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton over the regime’s "outrageous" treatment of the democracy icon and a pledge by UN chief Ban Ki-moon to visit the country.

"The press will not be allowed today. Only for one day were diplomats and press allowed," a Myanmar official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

About 30 members of her National League for Democracy party, including the country’s former longest serving political prisoner, Win Tin, kept up a vigil outside the prison as the trial resumed, witnesses said.

Aung San Suu Kyi faces up to five years in jail if convicted of charges of breaching her house arrest, which stem from an incident earlier this month when an American man, John Yettaw, swam to her lakeside house.

A smiling, healthy-looking Aung San Suu Kyi, 63, had thanked diplomats for coming to the trial on Wednesday and said she hoped to meet them again in "better days."

Authorities allowed one diplomat from each of the 30 foreign embassies in Yangon to attend the proceedings on Wednesday along with 10 journalists from local and foreign organisations.

Aung San Suu Kyi later met envoys from Thailand, Singapore and Russia, expressing hope that "it was not too late for something good to come out of this unfortunate incident," a Singapore government statement said.

State television showed footage of her talking animatedly to the diplomats and said Aung San Suu Kyi had told the envoys she was in "good health and convenient accommodation has been provided."

Medical specialists had visited her Wednesday and she was receiving daily health care at the prison, it added.

Yettaw, 53, and two political aides who live with Aung San Suu Kyi are also on trial. The US national spent two nights at the residence in what his family have described as a well-intentioned stunt to offer support to her.

The regime has kept Aung San Suu Kyi in detention for 13 of the past 19 years. It filed the charges against her just weeks before a May 27 deadline when her latest six-year spell of detention expires.

Critics say the junta wants to keep her locked up ahead of elections planned for next year under a controversial "roadmap to democracy" that enshrines a role for the military in government.

In Washington, Clinton said the regime’s treatment of Aung San Suu Kyi would automatically make the polls "illegitimate because of the way that they have treated her."

She added that it was "outrageous that they are trying her and that they continue to hold her because of her political popularity and they intend to hold elections in 2010."

UN chief Ban said he was "deeply concerned" about the situation in Myammar and said he would bring up the issue with junta leader Senior General Than Shwe.

"I’m going to visit Myanmar as soon as possible. Now I am very serious in discussing with (the) government of Myanmar when I could be able to visit Myanmar," he told CNN.

A western diplomat in Yangon said however that the regime’s strategy in the past had been to make as few concessions as possible when faced with international outrage, and then close up again when the pressure eases.

The junta did the same amid global anger over its crackdown on monk-led protests in 2007 and its handling of the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis in 2008, the diplomat said.

The regime refused to recognise a landslide victory by Aung San Suu Kyi’s party in the last elections to be held in Myanmar in 1990. The military has ruled Myanmar since 1962.


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