May 18, 2009

Burma's Aung San Suu Kyi on trial

Burma's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has gone on trial at the notorious Insein prison in Rangoon.

Undercover BBC correspondent: 'People here are very angry'

She is charged with breaching the terms of her house arrest, because of a visit by an American man who swam across a lake to her house earlier this month.

Dozens of supporters gathered near the jail as the trial got under way. It has now been adjourned for the day.

Many observers see the charges as a pretext to ensure Ms Suu Kyi is in jail during next year's elections.

Ms Suu Kyi has already spent 13 of the past 19 years in jail or detained in her home, and faces a further three to five years' imprisonment if found guilty of these latest charges.

It is unclear how long the trial will take, but estimates range from a few days to several weeks, as the government is expected to summon 22 witnesses to support its claim.

Two of Ms Suu Kyi's assistants are on trial with her, and Mr Yettaw is also being tried.

Ms Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) party won landslide elections rejected by the military in 1990, and she was awarded the Nobel peace prize soon after.

Wire barricades

Security is tight around Insein prison, says a BBC reporter in Rangoon - whose name is being withheld for his safety, because all foreign journalists are barred from Burma.

Dozens of supporters, including prominent members of her National League for Democracy party, gathered near the jail in quiet protest.

But riot police set up barbed wire barricades to prevent them getting too close and plain-clothes officers filmed them.

The ambassadors of Great Britain, France, Germany and Italy were barred from entering the prison, but the US consul was reportedly allowed in, possibly to see Mr Yettaw.

Mr Yettaw was thought to be in the courtroom with Ms Suu Kyi on the first day of the trial, though it is unclear whether he was being tried as part of the case against Ms Suu Kyi.

There are no outside observers, but unnamed Burmese and opposition officials said proceedings had now been adjourned until Tuesday, after several hours of testimony.

Mr Yettaw arrived on her back lawn in Rangoon earlier this month, after swimming across a lake using home-made flippers.

He was almost certainly uninvited, and Ms Suu Kyi's lawyers say she will plead not guilty to breaking the terms of her house arrest, saying he was allowed to stay only because he pleaded exhaustion.

Ms Suu Kyi's home is one of the most closely guarded locations in Rangoon, and her supporters believe the military authorities must have allowed the man to reach it, as he tried the same stunt unsuccessfully last November.

According to Burma's constitution, Ms Suu Kyi was scheduled to be freed on 27 May after six consecutive years of house arrest.

The misguided exploits of an apparently well-intentioned individual have now given the military government a pretext to keep her locked up, say correspondents.

Analysts say the trial shows that the military junta still fears Aung San Suu Kyi's influence over Burmese people, despite the fact she has been in detention for most of the past two decades.

They are keen to keep her detained in the run-up to the elections in 2010 - largely derided as a sham by the international community.

Foreign protests

Ms Suu Kyi's prosecution is taking place in such haste and secrecy, and on such bizarre charges, that it has already been dismissed as farcical by many governments around the world.

Protests against the trial took place at outside Burmese embassies around the world on Monday.

US President Barack Obama formally extended sanctions against Burma on Friday.

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said on Monday that the European Union should also consider toughening sanctions against the Burmese regime.

But so far there has been no official reaction from Burma's two large neighbours, China and India, or the South East Asia regional group Asean, which counts Burma as a member.