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Rangoon locked down ahead of Aung San Suu Kyi trial

May 17, 2009

From The Times Online

Squads of pro-government militia men were brought into the area around Rangoon’s Insein Prison, and local shops were ordered to close, as the authorities acted to pre-empt public anger ahead of tomorrow’s trial of the Burmese democracy leader, Aung San Suu Kyi.

According to Burmese journalists in Rangoon, members of the Union Solidarity and Development Association and the Swan Arr Shin paramilitary group have taken up positions close to government buildings and monasteries. They are stopping and searching cars and pedestrians, apparently fearing a repeat of the events of September 2007, when tens of thousands of Buddhist monks led anti-government protests which were violently quashed.

The state media have avoided making any mention of the arrest of Ms Suu Kyi, who is being detained in Insein Prison after an eccentric American intruder, John Yettaw, secretly swam across a lake to the house where she has been held under house arrest for most of the past 20 years. Internet cafes in Rangoon are reported to be busy, as people consult foreign websites for news of Ms Suu Kyi, who is regarded by many Burmese as a hero for her decades of peaceful opposition to the military dictatorship.

Her latest six-year term of house arrest was due to expire later this month, and Western governments have accused the Burmese regime of using the current case as a pretext for prolonging her detention. According to reports in the state media, Mr Yettaw, a Vietnam veteran and Mormon, swam across Inya Lake and spent two nights in Ms Suu Kyi’s compound, despite her pleas for him to leave. He was arrested by the security forces as he took the same route out again.

He made a similar visit last November, when he escaped detection. Ms Suu Kyi has been charged with violating the terms of her house arrest by not reporting the intruder to the authorities, as have her two friends and house keepers, Khin Khin Win, and her daughter Win Ma Ma.

“Madam Aung San Suu Kyi allowed him to stay at her residence until the night of May 5, 2009, spoke with him, and provided him food and drinks,” the police charge sheet read. “We found that Khin Khin Win and Win Ma Ma also helped Madam Aung San Suu Kyi’s treatment of Mr Yettaw.”

“She asked me to tell her friends and everyone that she is quite well,” one of her lawyers, Kyi Win, told Reuters after meeting her at the “guest house” where she is being held within the prison compound. “She is ready to tell the truth that she never broke the law.”

Mark Farmaner of the UK Burma Campaign said: “We are concerned that the reason they are holding Suu’s two companions is that they will use them to try to force Suu to plead guilty, or they will also be imprisoned.”

Burmese courts invariably find for the government in political cases, and the authorities further stacked the odds in their favour yesterday when one of her lawyers was struck off for “not abiding by professional ethics”. Last year, Aung Thein defended high profile anti-government leaders in the September 2007 protests, including the leader of the monks, Gambira.

He was sent to jail for four months for contempt of court after withdrawing his representation of them at their own request in protest at the bias of the court. As a further punishment for this offence, his license to practise the law has now been withdrawn, two days before the trial of his most famous client.

After his conviction last year, Mr Aung Thein said: “This kind of thing will continue to happen now and in the future. …. There will always be defenders of the truth. If I don’t do it, other people who do will emerge.”

Yesterday, the government of the Philippines joined many western government in condemning the charges against Ms Suu Kyi, whom led the NLD to an overwhelming election victory in 1990 – a result that has never been recognised by the junta.

“The Philippine government is deeply troubled and outraged over the filing of trumped-up charges against Aung San Suu Kyi and her transfer to Insein prison,” the foreign minister, Alberto Romulo, said.

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