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15 May 2009

Burma's Aung San Suu Kyi faces new charges from Myanmar junta

Reuters (UK newswire)
Friday 15 May 2009 12:46am EDT

Critics hit Myanmar
on "trumped-up"
Suu Kyi charges

by Aung Hla Tun

YANGON (Reuters) -- Western critics slammed Myanmar's military rulers for pressing "trumped-up" new charges against detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, but the move drew only mild rebuke from Asian neighbors.

The United States and Britain -- the loudest critics of the generals who have ruled the former Burma since 1962 -- condemned the Nobel Peace laureate's forthcoming trial on charges she broke the terms of her house arrest after an American intruder stayed in her home.

Human rights groups called on Myanmar's neighbors China and India -- which have strong economic ties to the resource-rich country -- and the 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) to demand Suu Kyi's immediate release.

"Burma's military authorities have taken advantage of an intruder's bizarre stunt to throw Aung San Suu Kyi into one of Burma's most notorious and squalid jails on trumped-up charges," said Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch.

The trial is due to start on Monday. The charges laid against Suu Kyi on Thursday stem from an incident involving U.S. citizen John William Yettaw, who is alleged to have swum across Inya Lake and spent two days in her house earlier this month.

There was no mention in Myanmar's tightly controlled press on Friday of the charges against Suu Kyi, whose six-year detention, most of it spent under house arrest at her lakeside villa, was due to expire on May 27.

She has been virtually cut off from the outside world, her phone line cut, mail intercepted and visitors restricted.

She has spent more than 13 of the past 19 years under some form of detention and now faces up to five years in jail if convicted of breaching a draconian state security law.

In Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she was deeply troubled by the "baseless" new charges against Suu Kyi and would raise the issue with China and ASEAN.

"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," Clinton said.


British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he was "deeply disturbed" by the turn of events.

"The Burmese regime is clearly intent on finding any pretext, no matter how tenuous, to extend her unlawful detention," he said.

Derek Tonkin, a former British ambassador to Myanmar writing in Britain's Independent newspaper, said the junta was probably delighted Yettaw gave it an excuse to keep Suu Kyi locked up.

"The regime must be mindful that whenever she has been released in the past, she has at once resumed her campaign for civil liberties. The military leadership has never been willing to agree to face-to-face talks," he wrote.

Thailand, the current chair of ASEAN, one of the few groups that allows Myanmar as a member, said it was "concerned" and urged the regime to ensure its "political process is inclusive."

"It will certainly be seen as a setback and we hope the United Nations will play an important role so that this can be resolved," Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva told Reuters.

In New York, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed "grave concern" and said Suu Kyi "is an essential partner for dialogue in Myanmar's national reconciliation," spokeswoman Marie Okabe said.

(Writing by Darren Schuettler; Editing by Alan Raybould and Valerie Lee)

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