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26 May 2009 11:27
Burma’s pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi told a court on Tuesday she didn’t think she was violating the terms of her house arrest when she gave “temporary shelter” to a surprise American
visitor earlier this month.
Appearing frail and pale but managing an occasional smile, Suu Kyi was questioned for less than half an hour about John Yettaw, who swam uninvited to her lakeside house.
The 63-year-old Nobel Peace laureate faces a possible prison term of up to five years in a trial that has brought worldwide outrage. Her testimony is scheduled to continue on Wednesday.
The charges against Suu Kyi are widely considered a pretext to keep her detained ahead of elections the military government has planned for next year.
She pleaded innocent on Friday, but a guilty verdict is expected.
Burma’s courts operate under the influence of the ruling military, and almost always deal harshly with political dissidents.
Reporters and diplomats, including a reporter for the Associated Press, were allowed into the courtroom for Tuesday’s session, the second time during the trial that such rare access has been granted.
“Thank you for your concern and support. It is always good to see people from the outside world,” she told reporters and diplomats before being escorted out of the court by four policewomen.
“Given her ordeal, she is in reasonably good shape,” said British ambassador Mark Canning, who met with Suu Kyi last week.
Her latest round of house arrest—extended every year since 2003—was supposed to end this week, and a top police official said on Tuesday that the government had considered releasing her on “humanitarian grounds”.
But the junta cancelled that decision when the “unexpected incident of the intrusion of the American happened,” Brigadier General Myint Thein said.
Suu Kyi has been charged with violating conditions of her house arrest by sheltering Yettaw (53) at her home for two days, communicating with him and giving him food.
Suu Kyi’s lawyers have said she did not invite him and asked him to leave, but allowed him to stay when he said he was too ill to leave immediately.
Suu Kyi told the judge that Yettaw, who was also in the courtroom, arrived at her home about 5am on May 4. One of her companions told her about his arrival.
When asked if she reported his presence to the authorities, Suu Kyi said, “No, I did not.” She said she spoke to Yettaw and gave him “temporary shelter”, and he left just before midnight May 5.
Suu Kyi’s side does not contest the facts of the case. Suu Kyi earlier told her lawyers she did not report Yettaw because she did not want him or security personnel in charge of her house to get into trouble.
Suu Kyi told her lawyers the incident occurred because of a security breach—the house is tightly guarded—so the responsibility for allowing Yettaw in lies with the security forces.
Two women assistants who live with her, and Yettaw, also have pleaded not guilty to the same charge.
When he pleaded not guilty, Yettaw, from Falcon, Missouri, explained he had a dream that Suu Kyi would be assassinated and he had come to warn her that her life was in danger.
Suu Kyi rose to prominence as a leader of the 1988 democracy uprising, which was brutally suppressed. Her father was the greatly revered Aung San, who led the independence struggle against Great Britain but was assassinated in 1947.
Suu Kyi’s party won general elections in 1990 but the military, which has ruled the country since 1962, never accepted the results.
The government has scheduled elections next year as the culmination of a “road map to democracy”, which has been criticised as a fig leaf for continued military rule.
Suu Kyi’s trial comes weeks after the European Union announced it was stepping up humanitarian aid to the impoverished country and the United States said it was reviewing its policy—including speculation that it might soften sanctions the regime says have crippled its economy.
But now the EU is talking of introducing tougher sanctions in response to the trial, and the administration of President Barack Obama has announced it will continue its economic penalties. - Sapa-AP
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