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14 May 2009

Myanmar junta seen trying to extend democracy leader’s detention

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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 the intrusion of an American man who sneaked into her compound, her lawyer was quoted as telling the Associated Press.

Such a trial could justify another extension of Suu Kyi's yearslong detention, which officially ends May 27. 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.

It was not immediately clear what accusation she faced, but 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.

An 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. The intrusion raised fears that Suu Kyi may have been ensnared in activities that could put her in further legal trouble.

"Everyone is very angry with this wretched American. He is the cause of all these problems," Suu Kyi's lawyer Kyi Win told reporters.

Earlier, 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.

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.

Kyi Win said that Suu Kyi told him she didn't invite the American and that she told him 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.

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.

"Please tell them (reporters) I am well," the lawyer quoted Suu Kyi as saying. But he added: "I am very concerned about Suu Kyi's health, even though she said she is well."

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.

"This is the cunning plan of the regime to put Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in continuous detention beyond the six years allowed by the law they used to justify the detention of her," the group said. Daw is a term of respect used for older women.

"This also shows total defiance of the regime to the United Nations and the international community who have been consistently and repeatedly calling for the regime to release all political prisoners, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi," the group said.

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.

The diplomat, who insisted on anonymity because he is not authorised to speak to reporters, said Yettaw had not at that time been formally charged with any crime. He did not elaborate, calling the issue sensitive.

Wednesday's local 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.

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 May 5, before being arrested the next morning. The report said his motive was under investigation.

There are no known previous cases of anyone sneaking into Suu Kyi's home, though a well-informed account earlier this week on a pro-government Web site said Yettaw admitted to making a similar secret visit late last year.






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