Junta claim 'sympathy' for Suu Kyi

Aug 11, 2009 (DVB), Burma's ruling junta have said that the commutation of Aung San Suu Kyi's sentence was due to them "feeling sorry" about the trial and seeking to carry out justice "fairly and righteously", according to a courtroom source.

Following a dramatic five-minute wait after the initial three-year sentence with hard labour was handed to Suu Kyi today, Burma's home affairs minister entered the courtroom with an order signed by junta leader Than Shwe commuting it to 18 months under house arrest.

According to a source who was at the courtroom when the verdict was given this morning, the statement cited "sympathy" for Suu Kyi.

"[The statement] said the chairman, has decided to grant her a pardon as she is the daughter of Burma's independence founder General Aung San, [and] the government looks for peace and tranquillity of the nation," he said.

He added that it was also done to show there is "no grudge" held against Suu Kyi, and to demonstrate that the government is concerned about moving towards democratic transition.

Following the verdict announcement, the European Union said it would tighten sanctions on the Burmese regime, while France and Britain called for global arms and economic embargoes.

Sweden said that the EU would "further reinforce its restrictive measures targeting the regime of Burma/Myanmar, including its economic interests", according to Reuters.

Meanwhile, French president Nicholas Sarkozy called for further targeted sanctions "which should particularly target the resources that it profits directly from — wood and ruby mining."

Suu Kyi will now return to her compound where she has been held under house arrest for nearly 14 of the last 20 years. She will be accompanied by her two caretakers, Khin Khin Win and Win Ma Ma, who also had three-year sentences commuted to 18 months.

US citizen John Yettaw, whose intrusion on her compound triggered the charges, was given seven years with hard labour on three separate charges, including an Immigration act and a Rangoon Municipal Act, and for making Suu Kyi breach conditions of her house arrest.

Although Suu Kyi's is well short of the maximum five-year prison term the courtroom was threatening, the commuted sentence will still keep her in detention beyond the 2010 elections, scheduled for March next years.

The trial was widely seen as a ploy to bar her from involvement in the elections, and today British prime minister Gordon Brown labelled it a "sham trial" and a "political sentence".

Reporting by Naw Say Phaw and Francis Wade

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