Myanmar's conundrum over Suu Kyi
Verdict delay could reflect uncertainty among Myanmar's ruling generals, say analysts.
Last Modified: 31 Jul 2009 06:33 GMT
Aung San Suu Kyi has been a thorn in the side of Myanmar's ruling generals [Reuters]

The decision to delay the verdict in the trial of Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is the latest twist in a confused and at times bizarre case.

Accused of breaking the terms of her house arrest, the trial which began in mid-May has been a stop-start process, convening for a few days before being adjourned again.

Her lawyers argue that the case itself has no legal basis as the charges she is accused of are based on a version of Myanmar's constitution that was superseded two decades ago.

The allegations centre on the strange case of American John Yettaw, a Vietnam war veteran, who swam uninvited to Aung San Suu Kyi's lakeside home, apparently on a mission from God, after having visions that she was in danger of being assassinated.

"She was surprised, everyone in the room was surprised about the decision," Chad Jacinto, the charge d'affaires at the Philippine embassy in Yangon who was in the courtroom in Yangon's Insein jail on Friday, told Al Jazeera.

"This is a political trial rather than a legal trial"

Larry Jagan,
Myanmar analyst

But while many had been braced for a guilty announcement on Friday – including, apparently, Aung San Suu Kyi herself - analysts say the decision to delay the verdict was not necessarily unexpected.

"There's been confusion all along about this trial, because I'm not sure that they knew what they were doing when they went into it," Priscilla Clapp, the former US chief of mission in Myanmar between 1999 and 2002, told Al Jazeera.

"I think that they stumbled into it, in a way, and are trying to figure out how to get out of it without totally destroying their reputation – not that their reputation is good to begin with."

Sensitive time

In depth

 Myanmar delays Suu Kyi verdict


 Aung San Suu Kyi
Suu Kyi's uninvited guest

Interview: Suu Kyi's US lawyer


 Suu Kyi faces years in jail
 Charges 'a ploy'

One possibility for the delay, she said, was the proximity of the anniversary of the August 8, 1988 student-led pro-democracy uprising which was brutally crushed by the military.

The anniversary comes at a particularly sensitive time because of the military's focus on national elections it plans to hold next year, part of a drawn out process it has labelled a "road map to democracy".

"They are preoccupied with the internal situation right now," Clapp said.

"They are very concerned about stability, they are very concerned about making this election work the way they want it to work."

Aung San Suu Kyi has long been a thorn in the side of the military ever since she became the leader of the pro-democracy movement in the late 1980s.

But at the same time she also commands a degree of respect from some members of military, albeit begrudgingly, from her status as the daughter of Myanmar's independence hero, Aung San, the man who also founded the Myanmar military.

'Important influence'

"There's been confusion all along about this trial, because I'm not sure that they knew what they were doing when they went into it"

Priscilla Clapp, 
former US chief of mission in Myanmar

Larry Jagan, a Myanmar analyst based in the Thai capital, Bangkok, said that the court's decision to delay its verdict most likely reflects the fact that Myanmar's top ruler, Senior General Than Shwe, has not yet decided what to do with Aung San Suu Kyi.

"This is a political trial rather than a legal trial," he told Al Jazeera.

By putting off the decision, he said, Myanmar's ruling military may also be hoping to deflect international pressure over the case, although he said that was more likely to have been a factor in postponing the announcement, rather than the outcome itself.

"With the elections coming up they don't want Aung San Suu Kyi out campaigning and promoting any party which is anti-military, even if her own National League for Democracy doesn't run," Jagan said.

"She could have a very important influence on the outcome of the election, which would be contrary to the outcome that Than Shwe wants."

Al Jazeera
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