Burma lets diplomats visit Nobel laureate, opens trial

Associated Press / May 21, 2009
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RANGOON, Burma - Burma's military regime opened Aung San Suu Kyi's trial yesterday to reporters and diplomats, but the unexpected access did not stem criticism that the hearing is a political ploy to keep the pro-democracy leader behind bars through next year's election.

The Nobel Peace laureate, who has been in detention without trial for more than 13 of the past 19 years, is accused of violating the terms of her house arrest after an American man stayed at her home without official permission. The offense is punishable by up to five years' imprisonment.

She is standing trial with two female members of her party who live with her, and John W. Yettaw, the American who her lawyers said swam to her lakeside home earlier this month and sneaked in uninvited.

Diplomats at the hearing said Suu Kyi appeared alert and in good spirits. She told her lawyer Nyan Win to request permission to talk to them and jokingly said she might be charged under a security law if she addressed them without the court's consent. She spoke with the diplomats briefly.

"Yes, we saw Aung San Suu Kyi, and she appeared very strong," Joselito Chad Jacinto, of the Philippine Embassy, said. Suu Kyi has reportedly been ill.

But diplomats and her supporters said the limited access didn't change their opinion of the trial, which many say is staged.

"All the paraphernalia of the courtroom was there, the judges, the prosecution, the defense. But I think this is a story where the conclusion is already scripted," British Ambassador Mark Canning told the British Broadcasting Corp. "No, I don't have any confidence in the outcome."

Nyan Win, a spokesman for Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party and one of her four lawyers, said allowing diplomats into the trial fell short of demands for an open proceedings.

Suu Kyi, who is being held at the Insein Prison along with scores of other political prisoners, had been scheduled to be freed May 27 after six years under house arrest. The charges against her are widely seen as a pretext to keep her in detention during polls scheduled for next year - the culmination of the junta's "roadmap to democracy," which has been criticized as a fig leaf for continued military rule.

Burma has been under military rule since 1962. It last held an election in 1990, but the junta refused to honor the results after a landslide victory by Suu Kyi's party.