Myanmar Opposition Leader Faces New Charges

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, pictured in 2007. i i

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, pictured in 2007, has spent 13 of the past 19 years either in prison or under house arrest for her efforts to promote democracy in military-ruled Myanmar. Myanmar News Agency/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Myanmar News Agency/AP
Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, pictured in 2007.

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, pictured in 2007, has spent 13 of the past 19 years either in prison or under house arrest for her efforts to promote democracy in military-ruled Myanmar.

Myanmar News Agency/AP

Myanmar's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi was charged Thursday with violating the terms of her house arrest after an American man sneaked into her lakeside home, her lawyer said.

Suu Kyi, 63, has spent 13 of the past 19 years either in prison or under house arrest for her efforts to promote democracy in military-ruled Myanmar. Her latest term of house arrest was set to expire May 27, and she now could face a prison term of up to five years. Many supporters and human rights groups view Thursday's charges as a possible pretext to prevent Suu Kyi's involvement in next year's general elections.

The American man, identified by Myanmar media as 53-year-old John William Yettaw of Missouri, reportedly swam across a lake and entered Suu Kyi's house without her knowledge on May 3. One of Suu Kyi's lawyers said his client asked the man to leave but allowed him to stay for two days after he said he was tired. Yettaw was arrested as he swam back across the lake and was charged with illegally entering a restricted zone and breaking immigration laws, the lawyer said.

"Everyone is very angry with this wretched American. He is the cause of all these problems," the lawyer, Kyi Win, told reporters. "He's a fool."

Suu Kyi was set to stand trial Monday at a special court in Yangon's Insein Prison, according to another lawyer, Hla Myo Myint. Two other women who live at the house also were scheduled to go on trial Monday in connection with the incident.

U.S. Embassy spokesman Richard Mei said Yettaw was not legally represented at Thursday's arraignment but that the embassy was trying to find him an English-speaking lawyer. Myanmar's state television reported Thursday that Yettaw had served two years in the U.S. military and listed his occupations as "student, clinical psychology, Forest Institution." The charges against him carry a maximum combined penalty of six years in prison.

In the past, the junta — which regards Suu Kyi as the biggest threat to its rule — has found reasons to extend her periods of house arrest, which human rights groups say is illegal even under Myanmar's own law.

From NPR staff and wire reports

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