- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 19, 2009

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi went on trial Monday, as hundreds of riot police ringed Myanmar’s most notorious prison to block protesters from proceedings that could send her to jail for five years.

Mrs. Suu Kyi, who already has spent more than 13 of the past 19 years in detention, has been charged with violating the conditions of her house arrest by sheltering an American man who swam to her lakeside home to secretly visit her earlier this month.

The ambassadors of Britain, France, Germany and Italy as well as an Australian diplomat were barred from entering the prison, but the U.S. consul was allowed into the prison compound because the intruder - American citizen John William Yettaw - is also on trial.

Mrs. Suu Kyi’s late husband was British, but she does not have British citizenship, though she could apply for it.

More than 100 Suu Kyi supporters broke through an outer perimeter of barricades around Insein prison in Yangon, but not the inner one that was closely guarded by armed police and government supporters. One young protester was seen being taken away by police.

Mr. Yettaw’s family members have described him as well-intentioned and unaware of the problems he could cause by trying to talk with Mrs. Suu Kyi.

Her supporters have expressed anger at him for getting the Nobel Peace laureate into trouble. Mrs. Suu Kyi’s lawyers have said that the 53-year-old man from Falcon, Mo., was not invited to her residence and that she told him to leave.

Nyan Win, a spokesman for Mrs. Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party and one of four lawyers representing her at her trial, said the court rejected their request to open the trial to the public and media “for security reasons.” He added that they would continue to seek to have the proceeding made public.

He said Mrs. Suu Kyi “looks very fresh and alert just like before,” and had asked the lawyers to tell her friends that she is well.

Mrs. Suu Kyi had been scheduled to be freed May 27 after six consecutive years of house arrest, but the ruling junta was widely expected to yet again extend her detention period. International lawyers say this would have been illegal under Myanmar’s own laws.

The latest charges are widely seen as a pretext for the government to keep Mrs. Suu Kyi detained past the elections it has scheduled for next year as the culmination of a “road map to democracy” that has been criticized as a fig leaf for continued military control.

Mr. Yettaw is being tried separately for violations of immigration law and a statute covering swimming in the city’s Inya Lake.

The first day of the trial heard testimony from police Lt. Col. Zaw Min Aung, the first of 22 scheduled prosecution witnesses, Mrs. Suu Kyi’s lawyer said. The officer, who signed the official criminal complaint on the case, laid out the prosecution’s basic case.

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