Court in Burma Hears Final Arguments in Case of Opposition Leader Suu Kyi

Aung San Suu Kyi, shown in 2007, is accused of a breach of house arrest.
Aung San Suu Kyi, shown in 2007, is accused of a breach of house arrest. (Associated Press)
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By Tim Johnston
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, July 29, 2009

HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam -- A court in Burma heard final arguments Tuesday in the case of Aung San Suu Kyi, the opposition leader, who could face five years in prison if she is convicted of breaking the terms of her house arrest.

Suu Kyi, 64, is accused of allowing a U.S. citizen to stay in her house in May. John W. Yettaw of Falcon, Mo., who said he was acting on a vision he had in which Suu Kyi was in danger, swam across the lake behind her house and arrived exhausted, prompting the Nobel Peace laureate to offer him shelter.

Police arrested him a day later as he used homemade flippers to try to swim away from her house.

Suu Kyi's attorneys have not contested the fact that Yettaw, who is also on trial, came to her house. Instead, they have challenged the legal basis for her detention and blamed the military security surrounding her house for letting the unwanted visitor get past.

Suu Kyi began her latest cycle of detention in 2003 after a drunken government-sponsored mob attacked her convoy, killing about 70 people according to opposition leaders. The government said at the time that Suu Kyi had been taken into custody for her own protection.

In court Tuesday, her legal team argued that if she was still in custody for her own protection, then it was the security forces that are to be faulted.

Her attorneys have also argued that the 1975 Burmese law that provides the legal framework for her detention has been superseded by later constitutions, making the house arrest she is accused of violating itself illegal.

One of her attorneys, Nyan Win, said he expects Judges Thaung Nyunt and Nyi Nyi Soe to deliver a verdict and possibly a sentence this week.

"The verdict will be given this coming Friday. We are hoping for the best but preparing for the worst," Nyan Win told reporters. "We have a good chance according to the law, but we cannot know what the court will decide because this is a political case."

Few observers expect Suu Kyi to escape some kind of detention. Analysts said the generals who rule Burma, also known as Myanmar, want to keep their most potent opponent out of circulation until after elections that are scheduled for next year.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has offered Burma greater engagement with the United States if Suu Kyi is freed.

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