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Nobel Peace laureate sentenced in Burma

World leaders decry verdicts for Suu Kyi, American

By Seth Mydans
New York Times / August 12, 2009

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BANGKOK - A court in Burma sentenced the pro-democracy leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to 18 months of additional house arrest yesterday, ensuring that she would remain in detention, with limited communications, through a parliamentary election scheduled for next year.

The sentencing stoked the anger outside Burma over the continued detention of a woman who has become a symbol of nonviolent resistance around the world.

Playing up a moment of suspense, the court first sentenced Suu Kyi, 64, to three years of hard labor for violating the terms of the house arrest, where she has spent 14 of the past 20 years. Moments later, in what may have been meant as a conciliatory gesture, it reduced the sentence and sent her home from the prison where she had been held since the trial began three months ago.

The case stemmed from a strange and now notorious incident in which an American adventurer swam across a lake on May 3 and spent two days at her villa, claiming that he had come to save her from assassination. The American, John Yettaw, 53, was sentenced to seven years of prison and hard labor for breaching the rules of her house arrest and for violations of immigration law and local ordinances. Yettaw, who had suffered recently from what were described as epileptic fits, was removed from the courtroom immediately after his sentence was read.

Two women who have lived with Suu Kyi during her house arrest received the same three-year sentence and the same commutation and were expected to return with her to her lakeside villa.

Human rights groups and foreign governments called Suu Kyi’s conviction “reprehensible,’’ “shameful,’’ “brutal,’’ and “monstrous,’’ and repeated their demand for the immediate release of her and an estimated 2,100 other political prisoners.

Speaking in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo, where she is traveling, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said: “She should not have been tried. She should not have been convicted. We continue to call for her release.’’

The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, called on the junta to “immediately and unconditionally release Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and to engage with her without delay as an essential partner in the process of national dialogue and reconciliation.’’

The European Union said it would seek to impose new economic sanctions, and Britain demanded an arms embargo. Sanctions have been largely symbolic over the years as Burma has continued to trade with China and its neighbors in Southeast Asia.

Looking composed and engaged after the verdict was read, Suu Kyi, who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, thanked the two dozen foreign diplomats in the courtroom for their support and, according to one, said, “Hopefully we can work closely together for the peace and prosperity of my country and the rest of the world.’’