Myanmar lets diplomats visit Suu Kyi, opens trial

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, rignt shakes hands with a diplomat in this image taken from TV in Yangon Myanmar Wednesday May 20, 2009. Myanmar's military regime opened Aung San Suu Kyi's trial Wednesday to reporters and diplomats, but the unexpected access did not stem criticism that the hearing is a political ploy to keep the pro-democracy leader behind bars through next year's election. (AP Photo/MRTV, via APTN) ** MYANMAR OUT TV OUT **

YANGON, Myanmar -- Democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi thanked diplomats for their support Wednesday after Myanmar's military government agreed to allow them and several journalists to attend her trial. They said she seemed "spirited" and in good health.

The Nobel Peace laureate, who has been in detention without trial for more than 13 of the past 19 years, is accused of violating the terms of her house arrest after a Missouri man stayed at her home without official permission. The offense is punishable by up to five years' imprisonment.

Critics say the charge of hosting an uninvited foreign intruder is part of a plot by the military regime to keep 63-year-old Suu Kyi locked up during elections, scheduled for next year. Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy won the last election in 1990 by a landslide but the military refused to allow the party to take power.

When the trial opened Monday, all outsiders were barred except for one U.S. diplomat. Wednesday's decision to allow 29 foreign diplomats and 10 journalists into the hearings came as a surprise. Members of Suu Kyi's party said they still were seeking to have the proceedings opened to the public.

Aung Zaw, editor of The Irrawaddy, an online magazine published by exiled Myanmar journalists in Thailand, said he doubted that international criticism of the military regime's treatment of Suu Kyi was responsible for the court's turnaround.

"Some people think the government is somehow kowtowing to international pressure, but I don't think so," he said. "I think this government is always clever and very manipulative of international opinion."

He noted previous occasions when the ruling junta seemed to make concessions to the pro-democracy movement, only to back away from them when the world's attention turned elsewhere.

Diplomats at the hearing said Suu Kyi, dressed in a pink jacket and maroon sarong, appeared alert and in good spirits. She joked that she might be charged under a security law if she spoke to diplomats without the court's consent, then greeted them briefly and told them she hoped to "meet you all in better days."

"Yes, we saw Aung San Suu Kyi, and she appeared very strong," Joselito Chad Jacinto, the charge d'affaires of the Philippine Embassy in Myanmar, said afterward. Suu Kyi has been ill recently.

"She sat listening intently and alertly to what was going on," he said. "She exuded a type of aura which can be described as moving, quite awe-inspiring."

But diplomats said they had not changed their opinion of the trial simply because they had been allowed to attend. Most assume the special court in Yangon's Insein Prison will find Suu Kyi guilty.

"The access we had today was welcome, but doesn't change the fundamental reality," British Ambassador Mark Canning told the British Broadcasting Corp., referring to the belief that Suu Kyi is being unfairly held and tried. "All the paraphernalia of the courtroom was there, the judges, the prosecution, the defense. But I think this is a story where the conclusion is already scripted."

The U.N. resident coordinator in Myanmar also attended Wednesday's trial session, U.N. deputy spokeswoman Marie Okabe said at U.N. headquarters in New York.

After the hearing, Suu Kyi was allowed to meet representatives of the Russian, Thai and Singapore embassies at in a guest house in the prison compound where she was also being held.

The diplomats declined to make public the details of their talk. Russian Ambassador Mikhail Mgeladze said his embassy's representative reported that "She looked very well."

"She looks fine. She is very firm. Her condition of her health is also OK. Maybe she looks a little bit tired but apart from this we can say she is staying in a two-story building like a guesthouse and she didn't complain, hadn't any complaint," he said.

Singapore's foreign ministry later released a statement saying Suu Kyi told the diplomats "there could be many opportunities for national reconciliation if all parties so wished, and that she did not wish to use the intrusion into her home as a way to get at the Myanmar authorities."

"She also expressed the view that it was not too late for something good to come out of this unfortunate incident," said the statement.

Suu Kyi is standing trial with two female members of her party -- her sole companions under house arrest -- and John W. Yettaw, the American who swam to her lakeside home under the cover of darkness earlier this month.

Suu Kyi's lawyers have said he was not invited to her residence, and that she told him to leave. But she allowed him to stay for two days after he pleaded that he was too ill and tired to leave.

Two police officers testified Wednesday for the prosecution, including one who interviewed Suu Kyi after her arrest. He said Suu Kyi told him that she provided Yettaw with rehydration salts and several meals.

The police also presented 23 items of evidence said to have been given to Suu Kyi by Yettaw, including two black cloaks which were modeled in the courtroom by policewomen.

The family of 53-year-old Yettaw, of Falcon, Missouri, describes him as a well-intentioned admirer of Suu Kyi who merely wanted to interview her, unaware of the possible consequences. Suu Kyi's supporters have expressed anger at him for getting her into trouble. Yettaw also face separate charges related to illegal swimming and violating immigration law.

State television showed brief footage Wednesday night of Suu Kyi meeting the three diplomats and getting into a car accompanied by a policewoman, and said her health was being attended to by a team of doctors.