Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Suu Kyi's party hopeful for her release: spokesman

The party of Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi said on Tuesday it was hopeful that she would be unconditionally released after a court agreed to hear an appeal against her recent conviction.

Lawyers for the Nobel laureate and the country's ruling junta are due to present legal arguments on September 18, after Suu Kyi challenged last month's guilty verdict for sheltering an American man who swam to her lakeside home.

The regime has ordered her to spend another 18 months under house arrest, softening the original sentence of three years' hard labour. But the order still keeps her off the political scene during elections scheduled for 2010.

"There could be changes as the court has accepted our appeal," said Nyan Win, her lawyer and a spokesman for her National League for Democracy (NLD), referring to Yangon divisional court's decision on Friday to hear the case.

"We are hoping for her unconditional release, which is also what we wanted," he told AFP.

"We will meet with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi this week after we get permission from the authorities. We need to get last instructions from her for the final arguments," Nyan Win said. Daw is a term of respect in Burmese.

The appeal would focus on the fact that a 1974 constitution under which the 64-year-old was originally detained had been superseded by a new constitution approved last year, her lawyers have said.

The guilty verdict sparked international outrage and the imposition of further sanctions against Myanmar's powerful generals, who have already kept Suu Kyi locked up for 14 of the past 20 years.

Suu Kyi insisted on her innocence during the trial held at Yangon's notorious Insein Prison, saying that she allowed US military veteran John Yettaw to stay for two nights at her home because he was ill.

Yettaw was sentenced to seven years' hard labour for the stunt in early May, but was freed after a visit by US senator Jim Webb last month on what the regime said were compassionate grounds because of health problems.

The move raised expectations of a possible thaw in the tense relations between Myanmar and the United States, which has reviewed its policies towards the country under the administration of President Barack Obama.

But in a sign of the lingering suspicions, the government mouthpiece New Light of Myanmar newspaper noted Tuesday that US and British diplomats visited the NLD's Yangon headquarters 28 times in August alone.

The diplomats met with party leaders "and presented small and big envelopes to them," the state-run daily said.

"As National League for Democracy has kept in contact with embassies of the United States of America and Britain and has carried out their instructions, people have criticised the party for its actions and have kept a watchful eye on it," it added.

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