May 19, 2009 / 1:30 PM / in 9 years

ASEAN prods Myanmar junta over Suu Kyi trial

YANGON (Reuters) - Myanmar’s Southeast Asian neighbors expressed “grave concern” on Tuesday over the trial of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi but China said it would not interfere in the regime’s affairs.

Members of the Free Burma Coalition-Philippines stage a lie-in protest in front of Myanmar embassy in Makati's financial district of Manila May 19, 2009 to denounce the recent arrest and detention of Aung San Suu Kyi. Myanmar's opposition leader Suu Kyi went on trial on Monday charged with breaking the terms of her house arrest after an American intruder sneaked into her home. Myanmar was previously called Burma. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco

On the second day of the closed trial, five prosecution witnesses testified against Suu Kyi, who is accused of violating her house arrest after an American intruder swam to her lakeside home two weeks ago.

The charges, denied by the Nobel Peace laureate, have drawn international condemnation and calls for Asian governments to get tough with Myanmar’s ruling generals.

Setting aside its usual line of non-interference, the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) said the “honor and credibility” of its troublesome member was at stake.

It urged “humane treatment” for Suu Kyi and reminded the regime that it had ignored the 10-member group’s previous calls for her release from detention.

Nevertheless, ASEAN chair Thailand said the group would not change its policy of engagement with the regime.

“Events over the last week have raised concern and we expressed our concern very clearly, but our policy is to engage and continue to engage constructively,” Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said in Bangkok.

The 63-year-old National League for Democracy leader has been detained for more than 13 of the past 19 years. Her latest house arrest is officially due to end on May 27 after six years.

Critics say the charges, which carry a three- to five-year jail term, would silence the charismatic Suu Kyi during multi-party elections in 2010, derided by the West as a sham to entrench more than four decades of army rule.

The NLD won the last election by a landslide in 1990, only to be denied power by the military. Since then, the generals have ignored efforts to force or coax them into meaningful reforms.

SANCTIONS DEBATE

The European Union said on Monday it is considering tougher measures against Myanmar, four days after the United States renewed its sanctions.

The EU also wants Asian governments to exert their influence on the regime and planned to raise the issue at an Asia-Europe meeting in Hanoi next week.

But Beijing said on Tuesday it would not interfere in the affairs of its neighbor.

“Events in Myanmar should be decided by the people of Myanmar,” China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu told a regular news briefing.

“As a neighbor of Myanmar, we hope all parties can realize reconciliation, stability and development through dialogue.”

India, which has not commented on the trial, and China are competing for influence in Myanmar with an eye on the country’s timber, gas and mineral wealth.

Derek Tonkin, a former ambassador to Thailand, said EU sanctions have had little effect on the regime and new measures were likely to fail too.

“The only effect would be to drive Myanmar further into the Chinese sphere of influence and aid and abet its isolation from the West, which the regime would positively welcome,” he said.

The media and public are barred from the trial held in Yangon’s Insein prison, which was ringed by heavily armed police manning barbed wire barricades on Tuesday.

Nyan Win, a member of her defense team, said they were allowed to meet privately with Suu Kyi on Tuesday.

She again insisted on her innocence and told them: “Don’t worry about me. I will face whatever happens.”

The regime accuses Suu Kyi of breaking the terms of her house arrest by allowing U.S. citizen John Yettaw to stay at her home for 2 days after he swam there using homemade flippers on May 3.

Suu Kyi’s lawyers argue no law was broken because she did not invite the 53-year-old Yettaw. She had told him to leave but he refused, claiming he was exhausted.

Slideshow (12 Images)

The United States has called the charges “baseless.” French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner described the junta’s actions as a “scandalous provocation.”

Yettaw is also on trial, charged with immigration violations and entering a restricted area. He is also accused of illegal swimming in Inya Lake.

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