By Tim Johnston
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, May 22, 2009
HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam, May 21 -- Burma's military government again barred diplomats and journalists from the trial of democracy advocate Aung San Suu Kyi on Thursday, but international pressure on the regime mounted with the announcement that U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon intends to seek a meeting with its leader, Senior Gen. Than Shwe.
On Wednesday, about 40 observers were allowed to attend the hearing at a court inside Rangoon's Insein Prison, where Suu Kyi, 63, is fighting charges that she breached the terms of her house arrest by allowing John W. Yettaw, a U.S. citizen from Falcon, Mo., to stay the night after he swam across the lake behind her home.
Yettaw, 53, is also on trial, charged with entering a restricted area and immigration violations. If convicted, he would face a sentence of up to seven years.
One of Suu Kyi's attorneys said Yettaw told the court Thursday that he had been inspired to undertake his uninvited swim across Lake Inya by a vision that the Nobel Peace laureate was in danger. The lake is behind the dilapidated house Suu Kyi inherited from her father, Aung San, who led Burma to independence from Britain after World War II.
Under Burmese law, citizens are not allowed to have foreigners stay with them and must notify authorities if anyone other than a family member, even a fellow citizen, wants to spend the night. Suu Kyi's legal team has argued that she should not be held responsible for the actions of a troubled man.
The trial has provoked intense international criticism, and the pressure increased with Ban's announcement that he would ask to visit Burma, also known as Myanmar.
"I am very serious in discussing with the government of Myanmar when I could be able to visit," Ban told CNN in an interview televised Thursday.
"I'm deeply concerned about what has been happening in Myanmar, in terms of democratization, and I'm going to urge again the release of political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi," Ban said.
U.N. diplomats said Ban probably would not travel to Burma before July, according to the Reuters news service.
Suu Kyi has been held under house arrest for 13 of the past 19 years. In 1990 elections, her National League for Democracy won a landslide victory, but the military annulled the results and has ruled by fiat ever since.
Suu Kyi's latest incarceration began in 2003 and had been due for review at the end of this month. Her supporters contend that the regime has used Yettaw's uninvited visit as an excuse to keep her locked up until after elections next year.
Those elections are expected to take place under a rewritten constitution that the Burmese opposition says will entrench the power of the military.