CAMBODIAN government officials expressed hope Monday that Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi would escape conviction as the democracy icon went on trial for violating the terms of her house arrest.
"The stand of our government is that it hopes Mrs Suu Kyi will be found innocent of these accusations and that she will not receive any additional punishment, because she has been punished already," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong.
Aung San Suu Kyi, who has spent most of the last 19 years in detention, is facing a further five years without freedom for harbouring a US man who swam to her home.
Koy Kuong noted that other ASEAN countries had expressed outrage at Aung San Suu Kyi's arrest, while government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said a summit between bloc leaders and the European Union, to be held in Phnom Penh at the end of the month, would provide an opportunity for Myanmar's representatives to explain the junta's actions.
"We are close to finalising the schedule for the ASEAN-EU ministerial meeting. I think that we will be able to request that the Myanmar foreign minister explain the situation over
there and explain about how [the junta] wants to take society towards democracy," Khieu Kanharith told the Post.
"The junta and Aung San Suu Kyi have both made mistakes, but the junta has promised democracy and so far it has done nothing to show any concrete progress," he added.
"We are continuing to keep careful watch over the situation there and how Aung San Suu Kyi's plight develops."
Aung San Suu Kyi's first day of trial ended amid heavy security, said one Myanmar official, without giving any details of the proceedings.
Dozens of supporters of the ailing Nobel Peace Prize laureate gathered near Insein prison for the hearing, despite the presence of riot police who set up barbed wire blockades and sealed off roads to the compound near Yangon.
Security forces also barred the ambassadors of Britain, France, Germany and Italy from the jail as they attempted to gain entry to the court, which is meeting behind closed doors, a Western diplomat said.
Myanmar's junta has ignored a storm of international protest to push ahead with charges that the 63-year-old violated the terms of her house arrest, under which she could also be barred from standing in elections due next year.
The European Union said Monday it would consider boosting its sanctions against the Myanmar regime after it put Aung San Suu Kyi on trial.
"We are ready to go forward," said Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kohout, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, as he arrived for talks with his counterparts in Brussels.
US President Barack Obama formally extended sanctions against Myanmar on Friday. But there has been silence from those of Myanmar's Asian neighbours who value its rich natural resources.
US national John Yettaw also went on trial over the incident in which he used a pair of home-made flippers to swim across a lake earlier this month to the residence where Aung San Suu Kyi is kept in virtual isolation.
A US embassy car entered the prison compound, but a spokesman for the embassy in Yangon was not immediately able to confirm whether Yettaw was receiving consular assistance.
The trial of Aung San Suu Kyi comes just days after she was imprisoned at a "guesthouse" inside the Insein prison compound on charges of breaching security laws.
Her lawyer said she would protest her innocence. "Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has studied the section of the law under which she was charged and says that she didn't commit any crime," lawyer Kyi Win said.
... THE JUNTA HAS PROMISED DEMOCRACY AND SO FAR IT HAS DONE NOTHING.
"She just felt sorry for this man (Yettaw) as he had leg cramps after he swam across the lake. That's why she allowed him to stay."
The junta, headed by reclusive Senior General Than Shwe, has kept Aung San Suu Kyi in detention for 13 of the last 19 years. In 1990, the regime refused to recognise her party's landslide victory in Myanmar's last elections.
Her latest six-year period of detention was due to expire on May 27, but Yettaw's visit has apparently provided the ruling generals with the ammunition they need to extend her detention past the 2010 polls.
Critics say the elections are a sham that the junta hopes to use to gain legitimacy and consolidate its grip on power, with a constitution forced through last year enshrining a role for the military in any government.
The military has ruled Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, since 1962.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY AFP