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26 May 2009

Myanmar opposition leader set to testify as junta rushes trial

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Prosecutors in the trial of Myanmar's pro-democracy leader Aung San Syu Kyi have withdrawn nine remaining witnesses, paving the way for her to testify Tuesday and suggesting that the military government wants to wrap up the trial.

Nyan Win, one of Suu Kyi's lawyers in her trial on charges of violating terms of her house arrest, said Monday her defense team was unhappy that it was not given sufficient time to consult with their client about her planned testimony.

Suu Kyi is widely expected to be found guilty for allegedly harboring an American who swam across a lake to her residence, though her lawyers say she did not invite the man and asked him to leave. She faces up to five years in prison.

Suu Kyi pleaded not guilty Friday but Myanmar's courts operate under the influence of the ruling military, and almost always deal harshly with political dissidents. Two women assistants who live with her, and the American, also pleaded not guilty to the same charge.

Asked Monday if he thought the court is rushing through the trial, Nyan Win said, "It is very certain."

Already bombarded by criticism from Western nations, the junta turned on neighboring Thailand, a partner in the 10-nation Association of Southeast Nation, or Asean, accusing its neighbor of violating the bloc's principle by interfering in Myanmar's internal affairs.

Thailand, the grouping's current chairman, last week expressed "grave concern" over the trial, saying "the honor and the credibility of the (Myanmar government) are at stake."

Nyan Win said the court waived the nine remaining prosecution witnesses - 23 had been scheduled - and the judge announced that Suu Kyi would have to testify Tuesday.

Suu Kyi's side does not contest the facts of the case - that a 53-year-old American, John W. Yettaw, swam across a lake to her property under the cover of darkness earlier this month to enter uninvited into her home. Her lawyers have said she allowed him to stay for two days after he said he was too tired and ill to immediately swim back across the lake.

Suu Kyi told her lawyers she did not report him because she did not want him or security personnel in charge of her house to get into trouble because of her.

The 63-year-old Nobel Peace laureate told them the incident occurred because of a security breach - the house is tightly guarded - so the responsibility for allowing Yettaw in lies with the security forces.

When he pleaded not guilty, Yettaw, from Falcon, Missouri, explained it was because he had a dream that Suu Kyi would be assassinated and he had come to warn her that her life was in danger.

Officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to talk to the press, said 10 to 15 journalists would be allowed to observe Tuesday's court session. The diplomats were told at a briefing by the Foreign Affairs Ministry they would also be allowed in.

Authorities last week unexpectedly opened the hearing for one day to diplomats from nearly 30 embassies and 10 reporters. Three envoys also were allowed to meet with Suu Kyi.

The trial comes weeks after the European Union announced it was stepping up humanitarian aid to the impoverished country, also known as Burma, and the United States said it was reviewing its policy - including speculation that it might soften sanctions the regime says have crippled its economy.

But now the EU is talking of introducing tougher sanctions in response to the trial and the administration of President Barack Obama has announced it will continue its economic penalties.


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