Myanmar’s Suu Kyi returns to house arrest

A Myanmar court found democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi guilty Tuesday of violating her house arrest by allowing an uninvited American to stay at her home. The head of the military-ruled country ordered her to serve an 18-month sentence under house arrest.

The 64-year-old Nobel Peace laureate has already been in detention for 14 of the last 20 years, mostly under house arrest, and the extension will remove her from the political scene when the junta stages elections next year.

The sentence drew immediate criticism from around the world, with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown calling it “monstrous.”

But the term was less severe than the maximum sentence she faced — five years in prison — and shorter than the one the court initially ordered Tuesday — three years with hard labor.

Five minutes after that sentence was read out, Home Minister Maj. Gen. Maung Oo entered the courtroom and read aloud a special order from junta chief Senior Gen. Than Shwe, cutting the sentence in half and saying it could be served at home.

Than Shwe’s order, signed Monday, likewise reduced the sentences of Suu Kyi’s two female house companions, Khin Khin Win and Win Ma Ma, to 18 months. Both are members of her political party.

The junta leader said he commuted the sentences to “maintain community peace and stability” and because Suu Kyi was the daughter of Aung San, a revered hero who won Myanmar’s independence from Britain.

It seemed likely it was in response to intense international pressure, including a call for Suu Kyi’s release from the United Nations that was backed by China, Myanmar’s key ally and benefactor.

South Africa’s Archbishop Desmond Tutu warned, however, that the reduced sentence was “not a concession — it is a manipulation of an illegal process. It must not be accepted by any government.”

Suu Kyi looked alert but tired during the 90-minute court session. She stood as the verdict was announced and then thanked foreign diplomats for attending her trial.

“I look forward to working with you in the future for the peace and prosperity of my country and the region,” Suu Kyi said in a soft voice to diplomats seated nearby. She then was led out of the courtroom.

Officials said she was driven back to her lakeside villa in a six-car convoy. They spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the high-profile case.

One of her party members tied yellow ribbons at the gate and two nearby trees as a gesture of welcome. Suu Kyi had been in prison during the trial.

The American, John Yettaw — who swam across a lake, entered Suu Kyi’s home uninvited and asked to spend two nights before trying to secretly swim back — was sentenced to seven years in prison. During four of those years, he will have to perform hard labor.

Suu Kyi’s trial has sparked international outrage and calls for her release and that of Myanmar’s more than 2,000 other political prisoners. The sentence sparked angry reaction from across the globe.

“The facade of her prosecution is made more monstrous because its real objective is to sever her bond with the people for whom she is a beacon of hope and resistance,” Brown said, calling the verdict a “purely political sentence” aimed at keeping her out of the 2010 elections.

Burma Campaign UK, an activist group, called for a global arms embargo against Myanmar and said the junta was “determined to silence all pro-democracy voices in the country in the run up to rigged elections.”

Suu Kyi’s international lawyer, New York-based Jared Genser, said her most recent period of detention violated Myanmar’s own laws.

“The real question is how the international community will react — will it do more than simply condemn this latest injustice?” he asked.

London-based Amnesty International called the sentence “shameful … nothing more than legal and political theater.”

The 53-year-old Yettaw, of Falcon, Missouri, was returned to Insein prison, the site of the trial, on Monday night after hospitalization for epileptic seizures.

The court sentenced him to three years in prison for breaching Suu Kyi’s house arrest. Yettaw was also sentenced to three years in prison with hard labor for an immigration violation and to another one-year term with hard labor for swimming in a restricted zone.

It was not immediately clear if the prison terms would be served concurrently.

Yettaw, a devout Christian, earlier told his lawyer that he swam to Suu Kyi’s residence to warn her of an assassination attempt that he had seen in a vision.

Yettaw was hospitalized last Monday after suffering seizures. He reportedly suffers from epilepsy, diabetes and other health problems, including post traumatic stress disorder from his service in the U.S. military.


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