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Suu Kyi charged with violating house arrest

Suu Kyi charged with violating house arrest
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First Published: Thu, May 14 2009. 12 28 PM IST
Updated: Thu, May 14 2009. 12 28 PM IST
Yangon: Myanmar’s pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi was taken by armed escort Thursday to a prison compound where she will be tried in connection with an American man’s stealthy entry into her home last week, her lawyer said.
Lawyer Kyi Win said that Suu Kyi did not invite the man to her compound where she was under house arrest, and it was not immediately clear what accusation she faced. However, Myanmar exile groups said she was likely to be charged under a catchall public security law and could face a prison term of up to seven years.
Such a trial could justify another extension of Suu Kyi’s yearslong detention, which officially ends 27 May. In the past the junta — which regards the Nobel Peace laureate as the biggest threat to their rule — has found reasons to extend her periods of house arrest, which international jurors say is illegal even under Myanmar’s own law.
The American man, John William Yettaw, was arrested last week for allegedly swimming a lake to secretly enter Suu Kyi’s home and stay there for two days. His motives remain unclear.
“Everyone is very angry with this wretched American. He is the cause of all these problems,” Suu Kyi’s lawyer Kyi Win told reporters. “He’s a fool.”
Kyi Win quoted Suu Kyi as saying she told the American man to leave her home. The lawyer said that the incident was merely a breach of security in the lakeside area where authorities normally keep close watch over Suu Kyi and her household.
One of many strict rules the junta imposes on citizens is that they must notify local officials about any overnight visitor who is not a family member. The law also states that foreigners are not allowed to spend the night at a local’s home.
Some members of Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy, have been jailed for about two weeks for violating that law.
Earlier Thursday, a motorcade accompanied by armed police, drove Suu Kyi and two women who live with her from their lakeside villa to Insein Prison. They were escorted into the closely guarded prison through a side gate.
Kyi Win said that Suu Kyi will be held in a house inside the Insein Prison compound so she could be close to the courtroom. The notorious prison holds both common criminals and political prisoners, with international human rights groups alleging that torture and mistreatment of prisoners are common.
American and British diplomats were seen outside the prison gates.
Also to be tried are Suu Kyi’s two helpers — Khin Khin Win, 65, and her daughter Win Ma Ma, 41 — who have lived with her since she was last detained in 2003.
Suu Kyi, 63, has already spent more than 13 of the last 19 years — including the past six — in detention without trial for her nonviolent promotion of democracy, despite international pressure for her release.
She has recently been ill, suffering from dehydration and low blood pressure. Her condition improved this week after a visit from a doctor who administered an intravenous drip, Nyan Win said on Tuesday.
According to the US Campaign for Burma, a Washington, DC-based lobbying group opposed to military rule in Myanmar, Suu Kyi and her two helpers were to be tried together with Suu Kyi’s personal doctor, Tin Myo Win, and Yettaw.
The doctor was arrested without explanation last week, a day after Yettaw was taken into custody.
In an e-mailed statement, it said they would they would be charged with violating a section of the Emergency Provision Act on public order and security, which is often used against political dissidents. The charge would carry a maximum prison term of seven years.
The lobbying group did not say where it got its information.
A US diplomat was allowed to visit Yettaw on Wednesday. Myanmar state television showed a still photo of Yettaw meeting with consular chief Colin Furst. A US diplomat said the meeting lasted 30 minutes and that Yettaw said he had been treated well.
Wednesday’s TV report said the meeting took place at the Aung Tha-byay police station in Yangon, which in the past has been used for detention and interrogation of suspected political dissidents.
“Yettaw has not been charged, nor have the Burmese authorities provided information on the next step in this case,” said a US State Department statement seen Thursday. “The Embassy has stressed to Burmese authorities the US government’s strong interest in Yettaw’s case and our concerns for his health, welfare and fair treatment.”
Myanmar’s state-run newspapers reported last week that Yettaw, 53, of Falcon, Missouri, swam on the night of May 3 to Suu Kyi’s lakeside home and departed by swimming a longer 1 1/4-mile (2-kilometer) route on the night of 5 May, before being arrested the next morning.
The report said his motive was under investigation.
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First Published: Thu, May 14 2009. 12 28 PM IST