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12 August 2009

Guilty verdict:
Junta shows ‘leniency’, keeps Suu Kyi under house arrest, again

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The unexpected ruling by the Myanmar court, which found Myanmar democracy leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi guilty of violating security laws, triggered global outrage despite the junta chief Senior General Than Shwe’s ‘leniency’.

Minutes after the court handed down a 3-year sentence with hard labour, Home Minister Maung Oo read out the directive issued by the Chairman of the State Peace and Development Council, the junta boss’ official designation, which cuts the sentence by half and allows her to serve the term at her residence instead of the notorious Insein prison.

The directive, published in the state newspaper the New Light of Myanmar, also stated that “should Daw Aung San Suu Kyi abide in accordance with the annexed stipulations in good conduct during the suspended period and not exceeding such period, all suspended sentences shall be pardoned.”

However, world leaders have reacted with anger and disappointment the guilty verdict, which will effectively keep the opposition leader under arrest during the general elections slated for 2010.

The UN called for her immediate release while the US, the European Union, Britain and France condemned the verdict, reported BBC.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has said he "strongly deplores" the verdict and called for Ms Suu Kyi to be freed. "Unless she and all other political prisoners in Myanmar [Burma] are released and allowed to participate in free and fair elections, the credibility of the political process will remain in doubt," he said.

US President Barack Obama called for her "immediate unconditional release", describing the extension of house arrest as unjust. A spokesman for the European Union, Ton van Lierop, said the further detention of the 64-year-old was unacceptable. UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he was "saddened and angry" by the verdict in what he called a "sham" trial.

AFP reported that the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev were among a group of Nobel laureates who also condemned the verdict.

They demanded that the UN Security Council investigate "war crimes and crimes against humanity" committed by the military junta that rules the country, which is also called Burma.

Yet, China and India which are Myanmar’s neighbours, main trading partners and the countries with most leverage, remain quiet. There have been mixed reaction from fellow members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).

Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman called for an urgent meeting of Asean, saying Suu Kyi should be released immediately. The Philippines said extending Suu Kyi's house arrest was meant to keep the democracy leader and her National League for Democracy party out of the elections.

In Jakarta, Indonesian Foreign Ministry spokesman Teuku Faizasyah told the Jakarta Post that “the government of Indonesia is strongly disappointed with the verdict handed down to Aung San Suu Kyi,”.

“The verdict is also bizarre in that the police officer guarding her house, who should be considered the one most responsible for the incident, didn’t undergo legal process,” Faizasyah said.

Legislator Theo L Sambuaga called on the Indonesian government to urge the Myanmar junta to review the verdict, saying the “trumped-up charges” would hurt Asean’s image on the international stage.

In Thailand, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva declined to comment on the court decision other than to say he would wait to see the full verdict of the trial and for the junta's view of the case as the government had to be careful about the issue, the Nation reported. Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya was quoted as saying that he would consult with other Asean foreign ministers. Thailand is the group chairman until December.

Singapore said it was disappointed at the court's verdict, but said the decision to commute the prison sentence to house arrest was a positive sign.

Suu Kyi was on trial for allowing a US national, John Yettaw, into her lakeside home after he swam there uninvited. Yettaw was jailed for seven years, including four years of hard labour. The 64-year-old has spent 14 of the past 20 years in one form of confinement or another -- most recently under house arrest.


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