, YANGON, May 26 – Myanmar pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi told her trial Tuesday that she did not violate her house arrest, saying she only offered temporary shelter to a US man who swam to her lakeside home.
The Nobel Peace Prize winner was testifying for the first time at the maximum security Insein Prison in Yangon, in a case which has drawn widespread international condemnation of the country’s iron-fisted military junta.
"I didn’t," the 63-year-old replied when a judge asked her whether she had breached the restriction order keeping her at her residence, according to reporters and diplomats present at the hearing.
The long-standing figurehead of Myanmar’s peaceful opposition movement, Aung San Suu Kyi faces up to five years in jail if convicted. She has been under house arrest or in jail for 13 of the last 19 years.
She said the first she knew of the bizarre visit by American army veteran John Yettaw was when her assistant woke her up at around dawn on May 4 to tell her that a man had arrived the house.
"I did not inform them," she said when asked by the judge whether she had told Myanmar’s military authorities about the intrusion.
Aung San Suu Kyi was also asked about claims that she had given Yettaw food and let him stay at the house, replying: "I allowed him to have temporary shelter."
The opposition leader said Yettaw left at 11:45 pm on May 5, adding: "I only knew that he went to the lakeside. I did not know which way he went because it was dark."
The junta is also trying Yettaw and two female aides who live with Aung San Suu Kyi in her house. Yettaw has said he swam across a lake to the house to warn her of a vision he had that she would be assassinated.
In a rare concession by the ruling generals, diplomats and some Myanmar journalists were allowed inside the notorious proceedings to see Aung San Suu Kyi testify.
Critics accuse Myanmar’s junta of trumping up the charges in a bid to keep Aung San Suu Kyi locked up during elections due in 2010. Her party won the country’s last elections, in 1990, but was never allowed to take power.
Defying the international outrage, a top policeman said earlier Tuesday that the regime could extend her house arrest by six months, despite her lawyers’ claims that her current six-year spell in detention officially ends Wednesday.
Brigadier General Myint Thein told the reporters and diplomats that authorities had considered freeing her but that the situation had "regretfully" changed since the incident involving Yettaw.
He said she had only officially been under house arrest for four-and-a-half years, "so according to the law, (authorities) can restrict her another six months to reach five years with the permission of the government."
Her earlier detention from May 2003 until November 2004 was under different laws, he said.
As foreign anger grew, more than 40 foreign ministers from Asia and Europe meeting in the Vietnamese capital Hanoi were to jointly call for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, according to a draft statement.
"In light of the concern about the recent development to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, ministers… called for the early release of those under detention and the lifting of restrictions placed on political parties," said the draft statement.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s Washington-based international counsel, Jared Genser, said Tuesday a UN panel had already found that extending her house arrest would be illegal under both international and Myanmar law.
In a rare move, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations ( ASEAN ) last week expressed "grave concern" over her treatment. Myanmar’s neighbours normally prefer not to be seen as intervening in the affairs of their members.
Myanmar issued an angry rebuttal to the statement on Monday.