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25 May 2009

Myanmar junta accuses Thailand of interference

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The Myanmar government Sunday lodged a strong protest over a statement of Thailand, the alternate chairman of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) over a lawsuit against detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, saying that the statement is an interference in the country's internal affairs, Chinese state news agency Xinhua reported.

In a separate report, Reuters quoted Myanmar Foreign Minister Nyan Win as saying 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."

Suu Kyi pleaded not guilty on Friday after a prison court formally charged the Nobel Peace laureate for breaking the terms of her house arrest by allowing an uninvited American intruder inside her lakeside home.

John Yettaw, who used homemade flippers and plastic bottles as floats to swim to Suu Kyi's home on May 4, and Suu Kyi's two female housemates were also charged and pleaded not guilty.

The court's decision to charge her after five days of testimony from prosecution witnesses came as no surprise in the former Burma, where the military holds sway over a legal system that has put more than 2,000 political prisoners behind bars.

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they will jail Daw Suu," said Aung Thein, a prominent lawyer who was helping prepare her defense when his law license was revoked a week ago.

Rights groups said revoking Aung Thein's right to practice law was the latest "blatant attempt" by the regime 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.

The court is expected to hear from more prosecution witnesses on Monday. Suu Kyi's lawyers will also submit a list of defense witnesses for the trial they said could run for two more weeks.

Suu Kyi and her two housemates are charged with violating a tough security law that has kept her a virtual prisoner inside her home on Yangon's Inya lake.

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 regime 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.

Critics say the trial appears aimed at keeping the charismatic National League for Democracy (NLD) leader in detention until after 2010 elections, derided by the West as a sham to entrench the military's grip on the country.

"In fact, it has nothing to do with her. They should take action against Yettaw alone because he intruded into a restricted area," Aung Thein said.

Yettaw, who is charged with immigration violations, illegal swimming, and violating the same security law, told the court last week that he had a dream Suu Kyi's life was in danger and wanted to warn her.


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