Myanmar bars Suu Kyi lawyer, U.S. renews sanctions

By Aung Hla Tun

YANGON (Reuters) - Myanmar's junta has barred a prominent activist lawyer from defending opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, as pressure intensifies on the regime to drop new charges against the Nobel Peace laureate.

Aung Thein said the order revoking his licence was issued on Friday, a day after a prison court charged Suu Kyi with breaking the conditions of her nearly six-year house arrest, which is due to expire on May 27. "I went to Insein Prison to be one of the five defence lawyers for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and they issued the order the next day," Aung Thein told Reuters.

Critics of the regime have denounced the trial of Suu Kyi and two female companions, due to start on Monday, on charges stemming from the mysterious visit of an American intruder who was arrested after he claimed to have spent two days at her lakeside home in Yangon.

Suu Kyi, 63, faces up to five years in jail if convicted.

Her lawyers insist she is innocent and did not invite U.S. citizen John Yettaw, who according to state media swam to her tightly-guarded lakeside home using homemade flippers.

Yettaw's motives remained unclear, but he has been charged with various offences, including encouraging others to break the law and "illegal swimming."

Aung Thein, 62, was jailed for four months last year for contempt of court while defending political activists. A close associate who is not involved in Suu Kyi's defence, Khin Maung Shein, also had his licence revoked.

"The revoking of his licence to practise law is a blatant attempt by the regime to damage the defence for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and her two live-in party members," the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners said.

The rights group said 11 lawyers remain jailed in Myanmar.


The military, which has ruled the former Burma since 1962, has so far ignored the international outcry over its latest crackdown on Suu Kyi, who has spent more than 13 of the past 19 years in some form of detention.

U.S. President Barack Obama renewed sanctions against the regime on Friday, saying its actions and policies continued to pose a serious threat to U.S. interests.

"The crisis between the United States and Burma ... has not been resolved," Obama said, citing sanctions first imposed by the United States in 1997 and ratcheted up several times in response to repression of democracy activists.

"These actions and policies are hostile to U.S. interests," Obama said. "For this reason, I have determined that it is necessary to ... maintain in force the sanctions against Burma to respond to this threat."

Washington has led Western governments in gradually tightening sanctions against the regime over its resistance to political reforms and detention of Suu Kyi and more than 2,000 other activists.

But neither sanctions, nor the policy of engagement espoused by Myanmar's regional neighbours, have succeeded in coaxing the generals into meaningful reforms.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's admitted in February that sanctions had not worked and Washington was looking for new ways to influence the regime. But analysts had not expected that review to lead to a swift change in America's sanctions policy.

Pro-democracy activists cheered Obama's announcement and urged him to lead a wider effort to pressure the regime.

"Now that President Obama has continued a wise policy from the United States, it is time for him to seize the moment and take action internationally," said Jeremy Woodrum of the U.S. Campaign for Burma.

"We hope he will immediately pursue a global arms embargo at the UN Security Council, as well as an investigation into crimes against humanity and war crimes committed by Burma's military regime," he said in a statement.

Analysts say the charges against Suu Kyi are aimed at keeping her sidelined ahead of the junta's promised elections in 2010, part of its seven-step "roadmap to democracy."

The West has derided the roadmap as a sham to ensure the military's grip on power.

Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) won a landslide election victory in 1990 only to be denied power by the military.

It has set several conditions, including reform of the army-drafted constitution and the release of all political prisoners, before it will decide whether to run in the 2010 polls.

(Writing by Darren Schuettler; Editing by Alex Richardson)

Article Published: 16/05/2009