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Last witness testifies in Suu Kyi trial in Myanmar

Friday, July 10, 2009 | 2:47 p.m. CDT; updated 3:55 p.m. CDT, Friday, July 10, 2009

YANGON, Myanmar — Testimony wrapped up Friday in the trial of Myanmar's jailed opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi as the last defense witness argued that she is innocent because the military government charged her under a constitution abolished two decades ago.

Friday's court session came a week after the regime's top general rebuffed a personal appeal by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to release the 64-year-old Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

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Suu Kyi is charged with violating the terms of her house arrest by harboring an uninvited Missouri man who swam secretly to her lakeside home and stayed for two days. She faces a possible five-year prison term.

The trial has drawn condemnation from the international community and Suu Kyi's local supporters, who worry the ruling junta has found an excuse to keep her detained through elections planned for next year. She is widely expected to be found guilty when the verdict is delivered, expected sometime next month.

A British diplomat barred from the court proceedings Friday condemned the trial, saying it "fails to meet the most basic standards" of local and international law.

On Friday, defense witness Khin Moe Moe, a lawyer and a member of Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party, argued during 3 1/2 hours of cross-examination that the 1974 constitution under which Suu Kyi was being tried had been abolished in 1988.

"I have known her (Suu Kyi) for 20 years and based on that and legal points, I made my testimony. She violated no laws," Khin Moe Moe told reporters. She said Suu Kyi looked "healthy and alert."

"The prosecution was on the defensive. We are satisfied with the testimony," said Nyan Win, Suu Kyi's lawyer.

The nearly seven-hour session ended with the court setting July 24 for final arguments in the case, Nyan Win said. He said the verdict could be expected in the early part of August.

Security was tight around Insein prison — where Suu Kyi is being held and the trial is ongoing — with roads blocked with barbed wire barricades manned by police. Truckloads of riot police were also deployed around the prison.

About 100 Suu Kyi supporters gathered Friday, as they have during earlier court sessions, to give her support, sitting and standing as close as they could to the prison gates.

Suu Kyi has been in detention for nearly 14 of the last 20 years, mostly at her Yangon residence.

British Charge D'Affaires Jeremy Hodges asked to be allowed to attend Suu Kyi's trial, but was barred from entry, the British Embassy in Yangon said in a statement.

"I asked for access to the court where Aung San Suu Kyi's trial resumed today. I was not allowed past the security cordon around the main gates of Insein prison which leads to the court," he said in the statement.

He added that the trial "fails to meet the most basic standards of Burmese law and international practice," noting that 14 witnesses for the prosecution had been allowed to testify but only two for the defense. Myanmar is also known as Burma.

The United Nations has been trying to persuade Myanmar's authoritarian regime to free an estimated 2,100 political prisoners and hold talks with opposition leaders. However, U.N. Secretary-General Ban's personal visit and appeals last Friday and Saturday failed to gain even permission to visit Suu Kyi in jail.

Suu Kyi's lawyer Nyan Win said he was preparing his final arguments for the trial and planned to meet Suu Kyi on Wednesday to prepare the final version.

Also being tried in Insein prison's court are her American visitor, John Yettaw, 53, of Falcon, who is charged with trespassing. Two female members of Suu Kyi's party, who were her sole companions under house arrest, are being tried for violating the terms of her detention.

The mostly closed-door trial started May 18. The court at first allowed only one of four defense witnesses to take the stand, while approving 23 prosecution witnesses, of whom 14 took the stand, according to Suu Kyi's lawyers.

On appeal, the Yangon Divisional Court ruled that Khin Moe Moe also could be heard but maintained the disqualification of prominent journalist and former political prisoner Win Tin and party vice chairman Tin Oo, who is under house arrest.

The defense has not contested the basic facts of the case but argues the relevant law has been misapplied by the authorities. They also assert that the security guards who ensure Suu Kyi remains inside her compound should also be held responsible for any intrusion on her property.

Yettaw has pleaded not guilty and explained in court that he had a dream that Suu Kyi would be assassinated and he had gone to warn her. Family and friends have said he was working on a book and wished to interview her.

 


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