YANGON (Reuters) - Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi denied violating her house arrest on Tuesday as the ruling generals tried to justify her trial, which has drawn condemnation from around the world.
Authorities officially lifted Suu Kyi’s house arrest a day before it expired after six years, but she remains in detention until her trial on charges of breaking that order is over.
The Nobel laureate faces up to five years in jail if convicted for allowing an American intruder to stay at her home for two days in early May.
“The house arrest has been lifted, but she is still under detention,” Nyan Win, one of her lawyers, told reporters after Tuesday’s session inside Yangon’s notorious Insein prison.
“I don’t know whether to be happy or sorry,” he said.
In her first testimony at the trial, Suu Kyi denied any prior knowledge of John Yettaw’s plans. The 53-year-old American arrived at her home on May 4 after swimming across the adjacent Inya Lake.
“I just allowed him to stay for a while,” she said.
Yettaw, who says he dreamt that Suu Kyi’s life was in danger, left before midnight the next day, she said.
Asked by Judge Thaung Nyunt if she reported him to authorities, Suu Kyi replied: “No, I did not.”
Her lawyers say she allowed him to stay for humanitarian reasons after he complained of leg cramps from the swim.
Earlier, the Myanmar authorities offered their latest justification for the trial, widely condemned as a sham to keep the National League for Democracy (NLD) leader in detention during elections next year.
Police Brigadier General Myint Thein said they had considered freeing Suu Kyi before Yettaw stayed at her home and she “talked to him and provided him with food and clothes.”
“These things infringed on existing law and we unavoidably and regretfully had to take legal action against her,” he told a group of diplomats and journalists. They were allowed to watch the trial on Tuesday, the second time it has been opened since it began on May 18.
Asian and European (ASEM) foreign ministers meeting in Hanoi “called for the early release of those under detention and the lifting of restrictions placed on political parties.”
Suu Kyi, one of more than 2,000 political prisoners in Myanmar, has been incarcerated for more than 13 of the past 19 years. Most of it has been spent at her lakeside Yangon home under police guard, her mail intercepted and visitors restricted.
Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said the ASEM communique went beyond anything previously endorsed by China or Vietnam.
“It’s a substantial increase on the political pressure on the regime in Burma,” he said, using the alternative name for Myanmar.
The Elders, a group of former world leaders and Nobel laureates founded by South Africa’s Nelson Mandela, also called for Suu Kyi’s freedom.
“We are moved by her courage and dignity. She shows the same steel as Nelson Mandela, who endured 27 years in prison. Like him, she has right and goodness on her side,” the group said.
Myanmar’s generals have ignored such calls and Western threats of tougher sanctions, but they bristled at criticism from regional neighbours.
State media accused Thailand, the chair of the 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), which includes Myanmar, of meddling after Bangkok said the trial threatened Myanmar’s “honour and credibility.”
The authorities insist Suu Kyi will get a fair trial, but analysts say the courts have a long history of stretching laws to suit the generals. Diplomats say the trial appears “scripted.”
Suu Kyi and her two female housemates are charged with breaking the terms of her detention under a security law that protects the state from “subversive acts.”
Yettaw, who used homemade flippers to swim to Suu Kyi’s home, is charged with immigration violations, illegal swimming and breaking the same security law. He is due to testify on Wednesday.
Writing by Darren Schuettler; Editing by Mark Trevelyan