Suu Kyi to testify as Burma opens court again

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The Independent Online

Burma democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi will take the stand at her trial today, her lawyers said, as the ruling generals tried again to justify a case that has drawn international condemnation.

The Nobel Peace laureate, who faces up to five years in jail, was set to launch her defence after prosecutors abruptly dropped their eight remaining witnesses yesterday, fuelling speculation that the trial could end within days.

Suu Kyi's house arrest order expires tomorrow and the 63-year-old is widely expected to be found guilty on charges of violating her detention after allowing an uninvited American intruder to stay in her home.

Before she testified, the regime gave its latest justification for the trial widely condemned as a sham to keep the National League for Democracy (NLD) leader in detention during elections next year.

Police Brigadier General Myint Thein said authorities had considered freeing Suu Kyi after her detention order ran out.

But then John Yettaw, 53, swam to her home on 4 May, claiming he had dreamt that her life was in danger.

Myint Thein said Suu Kyi allowed him to stay for two days, "talked to him, provided him with food and clothes". Suu Kyi says he was not invited and she told Yettaw to leave but he refused.

"These things infringed on existing law and we unavoidably and regretfully had to take legal action against her," Myint told a group of 55 diplomats and Burmese journalists.

They will be allowed to watch the trial today, the second time the court has been opened since the trial began on 18 May, but were not expected to see Suu Kyi testify.

Nyan Win, one of her lawyers, complained they were unable to prepare a defence with her. "It could be they have already written the verdict," he said.

Suu Kyi has been incarcerated for more than 13 of the past 19 years, most of it at her Rangoon home under police guard, her mail intercepted and visitors restricted.

Her spell of detention, which began on 30 May, 2003, has exceeded the five years allowed under a state security law, her lawyers argue.

But Myint Thein said the authorities can hold her for another six months of house arrest because a recalculation showed she has completed under five years.

"They were seriously considering handling her case leniently, taking into account that she is the daughter of national leader General Aung San," he said, referring to the independence hero.

The government insists Suu Kyi will get a fair trial, but analysts say the courts have a long history of stretching laws to suit the generals. Diplomats who were given a brief glimpse of the trial last week said it appeared "scripted".

Four witnesses are also expected to testify in Suu Kyi's defence. They include Win Tin, the longest serving political prisoner until his release last year, and Tin Oo, the NLD vice chairman who has been under house arrest since 2003.

Suu Kyi and her two female housemates are charged with breaking her detention under a security law that protects the state from "subversive acts". They have pleaded not guilty.

Yettaw, who used homemade flippers to swim to Suu Kyi's home, said on Monday that he wanted to change his plea to guilty, Nyan Win said. He is charged with immigration violations, illegal swimming and breaking the same draconian security law.

The generals have ignored Western threats of tougher sanctions since the trial began, but bristled at criticism from their regional neighbours.

State media accused Thailand, the current chair of the 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), which includes Myanmar, of meddling after Bangkok said the trial threatened Myanmar's "honour and credibility".

Bangkok defended the Suu Kyi statement today, saying it "reflects the desire for the process of national reconciliation in Myanmar to move forward on the basis of inclusiveness".