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Myanmar's Suu Kyi Goes On Trial

Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been mostly under house arrest since her party won elections in 1990.
(RFE/RL) -- The trial of Myanmar's pro-democracy opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, has begun in the country's main city, Yangon, amid tight security, on charges that could send her to jail for up to five years.

Barbed wire barricades have been set up around the prison compound, and riot police have blocked all access roads.

The AFP news agency quoted a Western diplomat as saying the authorities turned back the ambassadors of Germany, France, Britain, and Italy when they tried to reach the site of the trial on behalf of the European Union.

Despite the security measures, scores of Suu Kyi's supporters gathered near the prison for a silent protest. The Nobel Peace Prize laureate has spent most of the past 19 years under house arrest.

Suu Kyi is accused of violating the terms of her house arrest by allowing a visit by an American man, who swam across a lake to reach her home earlier this month.

Suu Kyi's lawyer, Kyi Win, said the opposition leader had read the law that the charges are based on, and was confident she had not broken the law.

Aside from the five-year prison sentence, a conviction would in any case prevent Suu Kyi from contesting multiparty elections promised by the regime in 2010.

Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) won a landslide election victory in elections in 1990, but was denied power by the military, which has ruled the former Burma since 1962.

Visitor's Mental State

The American man at the center of the case, John Yettaw, is also on trial on charges that include violating immigration law, and inciting others to break the law. Two female political assistants of Suu Kyi are also on trial.

Questions have arisen about Yettaw's motives in intruding into Suu Kyi's home. Rights activists in Myanmar and abroad have said they suspect the military regime is behind the incident, in that it occurred so conveniently only weeks before Suu Kyi's latest six-year house-arrest order was due to expire.

They note that Suu Kyi's house is heavily guarded at all times, and it's inexplicable why no guard was on duty at the rear of the building, looking out onto the lake.

The police make much of the fact that the swimmer stayed two days at the house, and was received hospitably. Suu Kyi said that Yettaw claimed to be too exhausted to leave on arrival, as requested. She said she did not report him to the authorities because she did not want him to get into trouble.

Yettaw's ex-wife Yvonne said he had no political agenda, and she raised the issue of mental stability by saying he was suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder, as well as a head wound he suffered during his military service.

Yettaw also tried to visit Suu Kyi in November 2008, but was turned back by the two political assistants who are now also on trial.

International Condemnation

In Brussels, EU foreign-policy chief Javier Solana said that the European Union should consider toughening sanctions on Myanmar over its treatment of the opposition leader.

Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kohout, whose country currently holds the EU Presidency, said EU member states are "ready to discuss the reinforcement of the sanctions, of course. But the first [thing] will be [a] call to the Burmese authorities to release San Suu Kyi."

In Washington, President Barack Obama on May 15 extended the state of emergency regarding Myanmar, saying the crisis between the United States and Myanmar has not been resolved.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has called for a broad release of political prisoners, not just Suu Kyi. "We call on the Burmese authorities to release her immediately and unconditionally along with her doctor and the more than 2,100 political prisoners currently being held," she said.

Philippines Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo said on May 17 that his government is "deeply troubled and outraged" over the "trumped-up charges" against Suu Kyi.

with news agency material