YANGON (Reuters) - Aung San Suu Kyi sat confidently in the prison courtroom, listening over the din of a clacking typewriter and noisy ceiling fans.
The 63-year-old Nobel Peace laureate, charged with breaking the terms of her house arrest, was unmoved as the police investigator spoke.
“She asked why I had come. I showed her the warrant and a picture of John Yettaw,” Captain Tin Zaw Tun said, recalling his search of Suu Kyi’s lakeside home after an American intruder was arrested for spending two days there.
In a rare concession from Myanmar’s military regime after days of international outrage, some 30 diplomats and 10 Burmese journalists were allowed to watch the 45-minute hearing in Yangon’s notorious Insein Central Prison.
Despite spending more than 13 of the past 19 years in detention, it is the first time Suu Kyi has faced the special court which has played a key role in the generals’ suppression of dissent over the years.
Hers is the latest in a string of trials critics say are intended to eliminate political opposition ahead of elections in 2010, the final stages of the junta’s “roadmap to democracy.”
Aside from dissidents, opposition politicians, labor activists and ordinary criminals, the court has also dealt swiftly with the military’s own internal feuds.
The last time a trial on this scale was open to the media was 2002, when the relatives of former dictator Ne Win were sentenced to death for an alleged coup plot.
At Wednesday’s hearing, the visitors stood up when Suu Kyi, dressed in a pink blouse and maroon longhi, or sarong, entered the packed courtroom.
Several female police officers also jumped to their feet at the sight of Suu Kyi. After a minute, they sheepishly looked at each other and sat down.
Suu Kyi spoke with her lawyers before the presiding judge, U Thaung Nyunt, and another judge took their seats in antique wooden chairs placed on a one-foot high platform.
Suu Kyi and two female assistants, who were also charged last Thursday, sat in plastic chairs facing the judges.
Nearby, a male court clerk tapped furiously on an aging typewriter as the police captain gave his testimony.
At times, he was drowned out by the busy typist, the ceiling fans and occasional barking dog outside.
Yettaw, the 53-year old American accused of using homemade flippers to swim across Yangon’s Inya Lake to Suu Kyi’s home, sat alone.
Dressed in a white shirt and khaki trousers, he appeared nervous at times. His motives remain unclear and he did not speak during the hearing.
Suu Kyi was also silent as she listened to the judge and prosecution witness.
When the hearing ended, she turned to the diplomats and journalists seated two rows behind her.
“Thank you for coming and for your support,” she said, smiling.
A few minutes later, a female police officer whispered something to her.
“I‘m sorry I can’t meet you one by one,” Suu Kyi said. “I hope to meet you in better days.”
She was escorted out of the courtroom and driven back to her guesthouse in the prison compound.
The trial resumes on Thursday.
Writing by Darren Schuettler; Editing by Paul Tait