Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Myanmar says Thailand meddling in Suu Kyi trial

A Myanmar activist holds a portrait of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi during protest outside the Chinese embassy in Bangkok (Reuters)

By Aung Hla Tun

YANGON (Reuters) - Myanmar accused neighbouring Thailand of meddling in its internal affairs on Sunday after Bangkok said the trial of democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi threatened the junta's "honour and credibility."

Myanmar said the statement issued last week by Thailand, amid growing international outrage over Suu Kyi's trial, was factually wrong and "deviated from the practice of ASEAN."

Thailand holds the rotating chair of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), one of the few groups that allows the former Burma as a member.

"It is tantamount to interfering in Myanmar's internal affairs," said a statement read out on state-owned MRTV.

Suu Kyi pleaded not guilty on Friday after a prison court formally charged the Nobel Peace laureate and her two female housemates with violating her house arrest by allowing an uninvited American intruder inside her home.

If found guilty, the 63-year-old Suu Kyi faces up to five years in prison.

John Yettaw, the 53-year-old American who swam to Suu Kyi's home on May 4 because he had a dream that her life was in danger, also pleaded not guilty.

He is charged with immigration violations, illegal swimming and breaking a state security law.

Critics say the trial, which resumes on Monday, is a sham to keep the charismatic leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD) in detention until after 2010 elections.

ASEAN has often been criticised for taking a soft line on the generals. Last week's statement was unusually direct.

It urged "humane treatment" for Suu Kyi and reminded the junta that it had ignored the group's previous calls for her release from detention. It said the Myanmar authorities' "honour and credibility" was at stake, but held fast to its policy of engagement with the military government.


The court's decision to formally charge Suu Kyi came as no surprise in Myanmar, where the military holds sway over a legal system that has jailed more than 2,000 political prisoners.

Foreign Minister Nyan Win said last week Suu Kyi's trial "will proceed fairly according to the law."

But diplomats who were given a brief glimpse of the trial inside Yangon's Insein prison said it appeared "scripted."

After 47 years of unbroken military rule, Myanmar's courts have a long history of stretching laws to suit the generals, activist lawyers say.

"I'm sure they will jail Daw Suu," said Aung Thein, a prominent lawyer who was assisting with her defence when his law licence was revoked a week ago.

Rights groups called it the latest "blatant attempt" by the junta to intimidate lawyers working on political cases.

Some 11 lawyers are in jail for working on such cases, including defending top monks and former student leaders arrested in the September 2007 protests crushed by the military.

Suu Kyi's lawyers will submit a list of defence witnesses on Monday, and they expected the trial to run for two more weeks.

Prosecutors argue Suu Kyi broke the conditions of her house arrest by allowing Yettaw to stay for two days and accepting several items from him. They included a copy of the Book of Mormon, two black robes, sunglasses and a flashlight.

Suu Kyi insists she did not invite Yettaw and blames the authorities for lax security at her home.

She has spent more than 13 of the past 19 years in detention, most of those years at her home under police guard, with her phone line cut and visitors restricted.

(Writing by Darren Schuettler; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

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