U.S. man at center of Suu Kyi trial testifies

Officials in Myanmar say this self-portrait was found on John Yettaw's digital camera.
The Myanmar court trying opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi heard testimony Wednesday from the man who swam to her house, sparking her trial on subversion charges.

John Yettaw, a 53-year-old former U.S. military serviceman from Falcon, Missouri, was examined for nearly three hours. In giving his answers to the judge, Yettaw frequently repeated that God sent him to Myanmar to protect Suu Kyi because he had a dream that a terrorist group would assassinate her. Yettaw also testified that four or five policemen saw him swimming across the lake to reach Suu Kyi’s house. They didn’t shoot at him, Yettaw said, but they threw rocks. He also testified that he had tried and failed to enter her house once before. Police found him, questioned him, and then released him, Yettaw testified. That testimony fits with the defense’s assertion that the government failed to protect Suu Kyi at the crumbling colonial-era house where she has been kept under house arrest. The court also heard Wednesday from the two housekeepers who are Suu Kyi’s sole companions in the heavily guarded residence and are her co-defendants at the trial. Each was examined for about half an hour. The court is expected to hear from one more witness Thursday. Nyan Win, a spokesman for Suu Kyi’s political party, the National League for Democracy, complained that the court was violating Suu Kyi’s rights because the judge rejected three of four defense witnesses. By contrast, he said, the court rejected only nine of 23 government witnesses. Watch the U.N. secretary general explain what he is doing for Suu Kyi » Yettaw swam to Suu Kyi’s home May 3. The government says Yettaw’s presence violated the conditions of Suu Kyi’s house arrest. The country’s regime rarely allows Suu Kyi any visitors, and foreigners are not allowed overnight stays in local households without government permission. Suu Kyi, 63, has been under house arrest for 13 of the past 19 years — a confinement the military junta has regularly extended. Her latest round of home detention — after five years of confinement — expired Wednesday, according to her supporters at home and abroad. Myanmar’s ruling junta, however, says Suu Kyi’s house arrest does not expire for six more months.

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And though the government said it considered releasing her at the end of the term, it said it had no choice but to try her after she met with Yettaw. “As Aung San Suu Kyi is the daughter of Gen. Aung San, the leader of our country, we were deeply thinking whether to extend her detention or not,” Police Brig. Gen. Myint Thein told reporters Tuesday. “Unfortunately, a U.S. citizen entered her house for two days. She allowed and made conversation with him, gave him food. “These kind of actions broke the law. This is why we have no way but to open a case. And we are very sad about this case.” Gen. Aung San played an instrumental role in bringing about the country’s independence from British colonial rule. He was assassinated in 1947 and is still revered in Myanmar, also known as Burma. Suu Kyi’s lawyers rejected the junta’s explanation, saying the United Nations has deemed the opposition leader’s continuing detention unlawful under Myanmar’s state protection laws. Her supporters say the trial is meant to keep her confined even longer — beyond the general elections that the junta has scheduled for next year. If convicted, Suu Kyi could be sentenced to three to five years in prison. Yettaw is charged with violating immigration laws and trespassing. The charges carry a maximum sentence of five years in prison on conviction. A lawyer selected by the U.S. Embassy is representing him. The National League for Democracy won more than 80 percent of the legislative seats in the 1990 elections, but Suu Kyi was disqualified from serving because of her house arrest, and the military junta ignored the results.

Party members Wednesday celebrated the 19th anniversary of that election victory. The celebration at party headquarters in Yangon brought together about 200 members along with a group of foreign diplomats. They released birds and lit candles.