Junta closes Suu Kyi hearing again

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The Independent Online

Burma's military junta returned to barring reporters and diplomats from pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi's trial today, sparking complaints that it was trying to hide the widely criticized proceedings from the world.

It was unclear whether the junta would again reopen the hearings as it had done Wednesday, when diplomats said the Nobel peace laureate appeared spirited and healthy.

A government official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to journalists told The Associated Press that reporters and diplomats would be barred as of Thursday.

Suu Kyi, who has been in detention without trial for more than 13 of the past 19 years, is accused of violating her house arrest during a bizarre incident in which an American man swam across to her lakeside home early this month and stayed without official permission. The offense is punishable by up to five years' imprisonment.

Suu Kyi is standing trial with two female members of her party — her sole companions under house arrest — and the American man, John W. Yettaw.

Yettaw on Wednesday for the first time offered a public clue of his motive for his strange visit to Suu Kyi, suggesting in a courtroom exchange with his lawyer that he had a premonition that the pro-democracy leader was at risk of being killed, according to Nyan Win, a spokesman for Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party who attended the proceedings.

He asked his lawyer to quiz a policeman who was testifying about his interrogation of Suu Kyi on whether the officer had been told that "In my vision, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi will be assassinated, so I came here." The lawyer asked permission to pose that question, but the court declined to allow it.

Suu Kyi's lawyers have said that she told the uninvited guest to leave, but that she allowed him to stay for two days after he pleaded that he was too ill and tired to leave immediately.

Authorities had unexpectedly opened the hearing Wednesday to 10 journalists and dozens of diplomats, after keeping them closed the first two days.

Debbie Stothard, coordinator of the regional rights network Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma, said Wednesday's move "was definitely a stunt by the regime to stave off pressure so they can proceed with their kangaroo court to jail Suu Kyi."

"They wanted to say they are not ill-treating her, so go away. You don't need to see the rest," she said. "It also means the regime doesn't have a strong case against Suu Kyi and has no grounds to proceed."

Suu Kyi thanked diplomats for their support during Wednesday's hearing and told them she hoped to see them during "better days." Philippine diplomat Joselito Chad Jacinto said Suu Kyi was alert, healthy and "exuded a type of aura which can be described as moving, quite awe-inspiring."

But diplomats said they had not changed their opinion of the trial simply because they had been allowed to attend. Most assume the special court in Yangon's Insein Prison will find Suu Kyi guilty.

"The access we had today was welcome, but doesn't change the fundamental reality," British Ambassador Mark Canning told the British Broadcasting Corp. on Wednesday. "All the paraphernalia of the courtroom was there, the judges, the prosecution, the defense. But I think this is a story where the conclusion is already scripted."

US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Wednesday criticized Burma's military-led government for continuing to detain Suu Kyi, calling it "outrageous."

Reports of the trial and Suu Kyi's meeting with diplomats were shown prominently on state-run television and in government newspapers — indicating the regime may also have been trying to sway domestic opinions.

Suu Kyi, who is being held at Insein Prison along with scores of other political prisoners, had been scheduled to be freed May 27 after six consecutive years under house arrest. The charges against her are widely seen as a pretext to keep her in detention during polls scheduled for next year.

Burma has been under military rule since 1962. It last held an election in 1990, but the junta refused to honor the results after a landslide victory by Suu Kyi's party.

The family of 53-year-old Yettaw, of Falcon, Missouri, describes him as a well-intentioned admirer of Suu Kyi who merely wanted to interview her, unaware of the possible consequences. Suu Kyi's supporters have expressed anger at him for getting her into trouble.

His actions have struck many as naive and eccentric — impressions hardened by the evidence that has come out at the trial. Among the items seized from Suu Kyi's house were two black cloaks that Yettaw was believed to have left her.