18 months for Suu Kyi

August 11, 2009 12:00 am

, YANGON, Aug 11 – Myanmar democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi was on Tuesday ordered to stay under house arrest for 18 months after a prison court convicted the Nobel laureate at the end of her internationally condemned trial.

The court at Yangon’s Insein jail sentenced her to three years imprisonment and hard labour for breaching the terms of her house arrest following an incident in which a US man swam to her lakeside residence in May.

The head of the ruling junta signed a special order commuting the sentence and allowing the frail 64-year-old to serve out just a year and half under house arrest, Home Affairs Minister General Maung Oo said outside the court.

The ruling means that she will still be in detention during multi-party elections promised by the iron-fisted military regime next year. Her party won a landslide victory in the country’s last democratic polls.

American John Yettaw, 54, the man who swam to her house, was sentenced to a total of seven years hard labour and imprisonment on three separate charges but it was not clear if the terms would run consecutively or concurrently.

Security forces sealed off the area around the notorious jail and the ruling junta allowed diplomats from all foreign embassies in Yangon and local journalists to attend the hearing, officials and witnesses said.

Suu Kyi has already been in detention for 14 of the past 20 years since Myanmar’s ruling military junta refused to recognise her National League for Democracy’s landslide victory in elections in 1990.

It was not clear whether she would serve the new period in detention at her crumbling lakeside villa or at another location.

State-run newspapers carried a commentary Tuesday that warned Suu Kyi’s supporters not to cause trouble and told foreign countries not to meddle in Myanmar’s affairs.

"The people who favour democracy do not want to see riots and protests that can harm their goal," said the version in the government mouthpiece New Light of Myanmar.

"Nevertheless, some persons who do not want national interest are resorting to a variety of means to disrupt the national goal, taking full advantage of the trial against Daw Aung San Suu Kyi."

Critics had accused the junta of using the charges as an excuse to keep her locked up for the elections due in 2010, particularly as they were lodged just days before the latest period of her house arrest was due to expire.

The military has ruled the impoverished nation with an iron fist since 1962.

Her lawyers argued during the trial that she could not be held responsible for Yettaw’s actions, and that the legal framework for her initial detention at her house was under a 1975 law that has been superseded by later constitutions.

Suu Kyi told the court that she did not report the American to the authorities for humanitarian reasons. The junta says she gave food, shelter and assistance to Yettaw, who has diabetes.

Yettaw, a Mormon whose teenage son died two years ago in a motorbike crash, had testified that he swam to her house after receiving a "message from God" that he must protect Suu Kyi against a terrorist plot to assassinate her.

Yettaw got three years for breaching security laws, three years for immigration violations and one year for a municipal charge of illegal swimming.

The case has drawn international outrage at Myanmar’s military regime, which is already under stiff US and European Union sanctions. Diplomats said that the EU was set to impose further restrictions in the case of a guilty verdict.

But the reclusive Than Shwe has resisted all calls for Suu Kyi’s release, and he snubbed UN chief Ban Ki-moon’s requests to visit the opposition leader in jail when Ban visited Myanmar in July.

Ban is set to meet a 14-nation advisory group on Myanmar that includes the United States, Britain, Russia and China next month on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.

Democratic US Senator Jim Webb is due to visit Myanmar later this month — the first US lawmaker to visit the country in more than 10 years.


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