Suu Kyi readies defence case

YANGON: Lawyers for Myanmar pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi said Sunday they were preparing to open the defence case at her trial this week, as the junta looked set to face further pressure from the West.

The tribunal's second week promises to be crucial, with European nations likely to push Asian countries for help at a meeting in Vietnam and Aung San Suu Kyi's official period of house arrest due to expire.

The Nobel Peace Prize winner pleaded innocent Friday at the court in Yangon's Insein prison, where she faces charges of breaching the terms of her house arrest after an eccentric American man swam to her lakeside home.

"We expect to begin our defence case this coming week," Nyan Win, a spokesman for her National League for Democracy (NLD) party and also a member of her legal team, told AFP.

"Now we are preparing a witness list and are preparing what we need for tomorrow (Monday)," he said, adding that the prosecution was expected to call final witnesses early next week.

Nyan Win estimated it would take another two weeks for a verdict at the trial, which has provoked a storm of international outrage over the military regime's treatment of Aung San Suu Kyi.

The opposition icon faces up to five years in jail if convicted. American intruder John Yettaw and two female assistants who live with Aung San Suu Kyi are also on trial.

The latest, six-year period of Aung San Suu Kyi's house arrest is due to expire on Wednesday and the military regime has not yet said whether it will extend it.

Wednesday is also the 19th anniversary of Myanmar's last general elections, which Aung San Suu Kyi's NLD won by a landslide although the ruling generals never allowed it to take power.

The ailing 63-year-old was taken from her home to prison earlier this month.

She has already spent most of the last 19 years in detention and critics say the charges against her are an excuse for the junta to keep her locked up ahead of elections scheduled for next year.

"I don't see that the authorities will extend her detention (at her house) again. They cannot extend it by law," he said, adding that under Myanmar's security laws people can only be held for five years under house arrest.

On Friday Nyan Win quoted Aung San Suu Kyi as saying: "I have no guilt as I didn't commit any crime." The prosecution case centres on her allegedly allowing Yettaw, a former US military veteran, to stay at her home for two days after the bizarre incident earlier this month in which he swam to her home.

Yettaw has said in the trial that his motive for the stunt was that he wanted to warn Aung San Suu Kyi that she would be assassinated like her father, independence leader General Aung San, who was shot dead in 1947.

He brought a number of unusual objects to her house including two black shawls for Muslim women and a copy of the "Book of Mormon".

Myanmar's ruling generals opened up the trial to journalists and diplomats on Wednesday for a day, in an apparent concession to international criticism of the trial, but then put the proceedings back behind closed doors the next day.

Differences over how to handle the Myanmar regime are expected to dominate a meeting of European and Asian foreign ministers in Hanoi starting on Monday, diplomats say.

EU nations have talked of boosting their sanctions against the regime, but while Myanmar's partners in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations have issued a rare expression of "grave concern" they have ruled out further action.

Myanmar's giant neighbours China and India have been silent on the trial.

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said earlier this week that the issue of Myanmar could be addressed at the Hanoi meeting, saying that regional countries "are the ones who have a real possibility of influence." The EU's three-member "Troika", which represents the bloc in external relations, is expected to meet with Myanmar's foreign minister, also called Nyan Win, on the sidelines of the conference on Monday.