Suu Kyi lawyers appeal sentence at top Burma court

Dec 21, 2009 (AFP), Lawyers for Burma’s detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi argued an appeal against her extended house arrest sentence on Monday at the country’s supreme court.

The 64-year-old democracy icon was ordered to spend another 18 months in detention in August after being convicted over an incident in which a US man swam to her house. A lower court rejected an initial appeal in October.

During the morning hearing in Rangoon, which lasted roughly one-and-a-half hours, Suu Kyi’s legal team argued that her conviction was legally unsound, according to her main lawyer Kyi Win.

The judges said they would decide later Monday whether to allow the case to proceed further, he told AFP. If they do allow it, the prosecution team will be called to argue against the appeal at a later date.

"As lawyers we have to hope for the best. We are always hoping," Kyi Win said. If the case is thrown out, it is thought that they would have to appeal directly to the military government to try and get the conviction overturned.

Suu Kyi, who is detained at her lakeside mansion in Rangoon, did not attend the hearing while journalists were also barred. Witnesses said security was tight at the court, with plain-clothed policemen patrolling the area.

Burma’s military rulers have kept the Nobel peace prize winner in detention for 14 of the last 20 years, since they refused to recognise the NLD’s landslide victory in the country’s last democratic elections in 1990.

The extension of her detention after a prison trial sparked international outrage as it effectively keeps her off the stage for elections promised by the regime some time in 2010.

But in recent months the United States, followed by the European Union, has shifted towards a policy of greater engagement with Burma – which has been under military rule since 1962 – as sanctions have failed to bear fruit.

Suu Kyi has also changed tack after years of favouring harsh measures, writing twice to junta chief Than Shwe since September offering her cooperation in getting Western sanctions lifted.

She has since met three times with the government liaison officer and last week she was granted a meeting with three elderly senior NLD members, at which she asked for their approval to reorganise the party leadership committee.

But the junta has not yet granted her requests to meet with the rest of the committee and to hold talks with Than Shwe himself.

In November the regime allowed her to make a rare appearance in front of the media after meeting with US Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell, the highest level official from Washington to visit Burma for 14 years.

A visit by US senator Jim Webb in August secured the release of John Yettaw, the American man who swam across a lake to Suu Kyi’s home in May and sparked the case that led to her detention being prolonged.

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