Missouri man in spotlight at Suu Kyi trial in Myannmar

Thursday, May 21, 2009 | 1:46 p.m. CDT; updated 3:38 p.m. CDT, Thursday, May 21, 2009

YANGON, Myanmar  — The middle-aged Missouri man whose nighttime swim to visit democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi may cost her a chance at freedom came into fuzzy focus Thursday, as a court in Myanmar showed a home movie he allegedly shot at her lakeside residence.

However, few outsiders were able to view the unique video because the court again closed the proceedings, barring reporters and diplomats after allowing them to attend a single session on Wednesday.


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The May 3 visit of John W. Yettaw, of Falcon who was not invited to Suu Kyi's lakeside compound, has ensnared her in a legal mess that could sink her chances of ending six years of continuous detention without trial. She has spent more than 13 of the past 19 years locked up because of her opposition to the country's military government.

Suu Kyi, two female members of her party who live with her under house arrest, and the 53-year-old Yettaw are being tried together for violating the conditions of her detention order, which bans visitors without official permission. The offense is punishable by up to five years' imprisonment.

Suu Kyi had been scheduled to be freed May 27, after which the law does not appear to allow her to be held.

The charges against her are widely seen as a pretext for the government to keep her detained through polls it has scheduled for next year as the culmination of a "roadmap to democracy," which has been criticized as a fig leaf for continued military rule.

Suu Kyi's supporters suspect some kind of trickery by the junta was behind Yettaw's intrusion, while his family insists he is a well-meaning admirer who merely wanted to interview her, unaware of the possible consequences.

Suu Kyi's lawyers have said that she told the uninvited guest to leave, but that she allowed him to stay for two days after he pleaded that he was too ill and tired to return across the lake.

The evidence introduced so far at the trial raises more questions than answers about Yettaw. Among those not yet explored by the court: How did he make a first visit late last year without being detected by authorities?

On Thursday, the prosecution spent almost two hours showing a video said to have been shot by Yettaw at Suu Kyi's house during his latest visit, according to one of her lawyers, Nyan Win. The video had a voice-over, apparently by Yettaw, which was translated into the Myanmar language in the courtroom.

"The video taken by Mr. Yettaw showed the portrait of Gen. Aung San (Myanmar's independence hero and Suu Kyi's father), a bookshelf and Mr. Yettaw himself standing in front of the portrait of Gen. Aung San.

"He was saying he is now in Yangon, at Aung San Suu Kyi's house and that he asked permission to film Aung San Suu Kyi but she refused. 'She looked nervous and I am sorry for that,' he was saying that, in his video," Nyan Win told reporters.

On Wednesday, 23 objects seized from Suu Kyi's house were presented as evidence, the most striking items being two black cloaks or robes described as being of a type worn by Muslim women, along with scarves to cover the face, two long skirts, and sunglasses.

Clearly implying that they could be used in an escape attempt, the prosecutor asked the police officer who seized the items whether "If a person wears this woman's Muslim dress and sunglasses, will you be able to identify the person?" The officer replied "No.'

Yettaw on Wednesday also offered the first public clue to the motive for his actions, suggesting in a courtroom exchange that he had a premonition someone would try to kill the pro-democracy leader, according to Nyan Win, who attended the proceedings.

He asked his lawyer to question a policeman who was testifying whether the officer had been told by Suu Kyi that he said to her, "In my vision, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi will be assassinated, so I came here." The lawyer asked permission to pose that question, but the court declined to allow it.

His wife, Betty Yettaw, described her husband to The Associated Press as "a somewhat troubled person" with several tragedies marking his life, and said he received veterans' disability payments for injuries suffered many years ago while serving in the U.S. military.



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