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11 August 2009

Court verdict due on Myanmar democracy icon

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Myanmar democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi could finally hear the verdict in her internationally condemned trial on Tuesday after a series of delays in the case in which she faces a possible five-year jail term, reported AFP.

Officials said the release from hospital late on Monday of a US man who sparked the trial by swimming to the Nobel peace laureate's house meant the judgment may now go ahead as scheduled at Yangon's notorious Insein Prison.

Diplomats and Myanmar authorities had warned that American John Yettaw's treatment for a series of epileptic fits could cause the latest in series of delays in the nearly three-month-old trial.

Security was heavy around the prison late Monday but the status of Tuesday's hearing remained unclear overnight, despite the confirmation by an official source that Yettaw had been discharged from hospital after a week of treatment.

The 64-year-old Suu Kyi stands charged with breaching the conditions of her house arrest following the bizarre incident in which former US military veteran Yettaw swam across a lake to reach her heavily secured villa in May.

The court is widely expected to hand down a guilty verdict but the sentence remains a matter of speculation, with many diplomats in Yangon predicting that she will be jailed or placed under house arrest for up to three years.

She has already been in detention for 14 of the last 20 years since Myanmar's ruling military junta refused to recognise her National League for Democracy's landslide victory in elections in 1990.

The case is proving to be a major headache for Myanmar's powerful generals, caught between growing international pressure to free Suu Kyi and what critics say is its determination to keep her locked up during elections due in 2010.

UN chief Ban Ki Moon last week pressed the regime to free political prisoners, including Ms Suu Kyi, after convening a meeting of the 'Group of Friends of the Secretary-General on Myanmar'.

A visit to Myanmar later this week by Democratic US Senator Jim Webb - the first US lawmaker to visit the country in more than 10 years - could further complicate the timing of the verdict, diplomats said.

Suu Kyi's lawyers have hailed the repeated delays as a sign that the judges have 'serious legal problems' - but analysts say the real decisions are being made by reclusive junta leader Than Shwe from the bunker capital Naypyidaw.

Yettaw's illness after what the national police chief said was a campaign of religiously inspired fasting since his arrest in May made fresh delays possible in the case.

Myanmar officials said at the weekend that Yettaw's health was improving and that he was 'eating well'.

The former US military veteran also faces up to five years in jail on charges of abetting Ms Suu Kyi's breach of security laws, immigration violations and a municipal charge of illegal swimming.

Diplomats said at the weekend that Myanmar's regime was listening closely to its allies China and Russia, which have so far steered clear of saying that the trial is an internal matter and thereby granting the junta a free hand. State media at the weekend warned 'power-craving' opportunists to abandon their plans of 'trying to incite riots under the pretext of Daw Suu Kyi's case'.


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