Myanmar opens Suu Kyi trial to diplomats and media

By Aung Hla Tun

YANGON (Reuters) - Army-ruled Myanmar opened the prison trial of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to diplomats and journalists on Wednesday in an apparent effort to calm international outrage over the case.

Embassies were told they could send one diplomat to the court inside Yangon's notorious Insein Central Prison, where Suu Kyi faces up to five years in jail if found guilty of breaking the terms of her house arrest.

A handful of journalists working for local and foreign media were also told they could cover the proceedings at around midday, the secretary of Myanmar's foreign correspondents club said.

"They seem to want to improve the image of the trial by allowing us to be there," one Asian diplomat said after he was contacted by the Foreign Ministry.

The case against Suu Kyi, accused of violating her house arrest after an uninvited American intruder swam to her lakeside home two weeks ago, has outraged the West and triggered threats of new sanctions against the regime.

Foreign diplomats were barred from the opening of the trial on Monday, angering French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner who called the junta's actions "a scandalous provocation."

The Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), setting aside its mantra of non-interference, said on Tuesday the trial had put the "honour and credibility" of its troublesome member at stake.

Critics denounce the trial as a bid to keep the charismatic Suu Kyi, 63, locked up during multi-party elections next year, derided by the West as sham to entrench the military's grip on the country of 54 million people.

Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) won the last election by a landslide in 1990, only to be denied power by the military which has ruled the former Burma for more than four decades.

She has been detained for more than 13 of the past 19 years, most of them at her home in Yangon, guarded by police, her mail intercepted and visitors restricted.

Her latest house arrest will end on May 27 after six years, fuelling allegations that the regime is using the American intruder as a pretext to keep Suu Kyi in detention.

Despite the tight security at her home, authorities say John Yettaw, a 53-year-old American, sneaked inside on May 3 after using homemade flippers to swim across Inya Lake.

Suu Kyi's lawyers argue no law was broken because she did not invite Yettaw. They say she told him to leave, but he refused and Suu Kyi did not report him for fear he would get into trouble.

Yettaw, who has not revealed his motives to U.S. embassy officials, is described by state media as a 53-year-old psychology student from Missouri.

He is charged with immigration violations, trespassing into a restricted area, and violating a draconian security law protecting the state from "those desiring to cause subversive acts."

Two female assistants who live with Suu Kyi, Khin Khin Win and Ma Win Ma Ma, are also charged under the security law.

Nyan Win, an NLD official and member of Suu Kyi's defence team, said on Tuesday the regime was rushing through the list of 22 prosecution witnesses and may wrap up the trial next week.

(Writing by Darren Schuettler; Editing by Valerie Lee)

Article Published: 20/05/2009