By AUNG ZAW
Inside sources in Naypyidaw have revealed that Snr-Gen Than Shwe held a meeting with his top brass in the remote capital in March. The meeting was convened for one reason only—to discuss the thorny issue of Burma’s most famous prisoner, Aung San Suu Kyi.
Than Shwe reportedly asked five of his advisers, including Deputy Snr-Gen Maung Aye and Gen Shwe Mann, how they thought the regime should tackle the “kaung ma lay” (little girl).
The answers he received were vague and sycophantic with some generals reportedly advocating that Than Shwe continue ignoring the international pressure to release Suu Kyi and keep her under house arrest indefinitely.
Apparently, Than Shwe was not satisfied with the suggestions from his subordinates. He wanted to create a legal case against her. He saw Suu Kyi as the biggest threat to the junta and took the decision to order the Ministry of Home Affairs to design a case that would nail her.
Of the possible scenarios to frame the democracy leader for breaking the terms of her house arrest, the use of John William Yettaw was perhaps a long shot.
It was known that he had sneaked into Suu Kyi’s compound when he was in Rangoon in November. Suu Kyi’s personal physician Dr Tin Myo Win had informed the police of Yettaw’s intrusion, but authorities decided not to take action against him at that time.
According to former intelligence officers, it is easy to trace foreigners who apply for Burmese visas. If the authorities did not want Yettaw to return to the country, they would simply inform Burmese embassies to put him on the black list. They didn’t.
Yettaw is known to have been in Thailand speaking to Burmese exiles. He had let it slip that he had secretly entered Suu Kyi’s compound and that he wanted to interview Suu Kyi for a book he was writing on heroism and how people react under pressure.
His mother is reported to have said he has mental problems, and was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. His wife described him as a “peace-loving” man.
This misguided individual fitted the profile that Than Shwe needed. If he could be coerced (or permitted) into repeating his act of intrepidness, he would unwittingly be giving the regime the legal loophole they needed to charge Suu Kyi with breaking the law, in this case Section 22 of the “Law to Safeguard the State Against the Dangers of Those Desiring to Cause Subversive Acts.”
Of course it was not a foolproof plan; perhaps one of several pawns that Than Shwe was maneuvering. But since the morning the police fished Yettaw out of Inya Lake, the authorities have moved with a conviction that strongly suggests they were confident that this pawn sacrifice had swung their game plan into a checkmate position.
Sources in Naypyidaw said that when Than Shwe heard the news of the arrest of an intruder at Inya Lake, he was “elated.”
Although Yettaw’s intrusion can in no rational way be attributed to Suu Kyi—on the contrary, it points to a gaping hole in the junta’s security—it is now being used as the foundation of a legal case against her.
This is not the first time that the regime has tried to find a petty incident to tie up the NLD leader in legal red tape.
In 2001, Burma’s military authorities exploited a family feud between Suu Kyi and her brother, Aung San Oo, who lives in the United States and holds American citizenship. They fast-tracked an opportunity for the disgruntled brother to sue his sister for control of half of the residential compound that has been her home since 1988.
Aung San Oo said that if he won the case, he would donate half of the land to the government, as his late mother Daw Khin Kyi had expressed a desire to open her house as a museum.
In the end, the court dismissed his case on the grounds that, according to Burmese law, foreigners don't have the right to own land in Burma. But Than Shwe’s intentions were clear—to cast doubts over Suu Kyi, to humiliate her and to cause her pain.
In February 2003, Suu Kyi faced a light jail term after refusing to pay a fine handed down by a Rangoon divisional court. Suu Kyi’s cousin, Soe Aung, had reportedly punched her at the lakeside compound where he was also living. Suu Kyi and Soe Aung both filed charges over the incident. Soe Aung filed charges against Suu Kyi for illegally ejecting him from the compound.
The court offered Suu Kyi the choice between a week in jail or a 500 kyat (US $0.50) fine. Suu Kyi refused to pay the fine and said that she would rather go to jail for seven days. The case was subsequently dropped.
But in trapping John William Yettaw at Inya Lake, this time Than Shwe thinks he has caught a bigger fish.
The regime is moving quickly now to move the trial along. Suu Kyi faces a sentence of up to five years imprisonment if found guilty of violating the terms of her house arrest by supposedly “harboring” the American.
In conducting a kangaroo court in Insein Prison, Than Shwe may have underestimated the swiftness of international reaction and the extension of sanctions from the US and EU. However, he can shrug that off as long as his old benefactors—China, Russia, India and Asean—stand by him.
He will also be measuring the amount of time and energy world leaders allot to Suu Kyi’s case, assuming the hullabaloo will die down as soon as a new crisis unfolds somewhere else in the world.
In any case, he knows he can ride the storm of disapproval from abroad.
In the meantime, sources say, back in Naypyidaw Than Shwe is happily following the proceedings from the trial in Insein, no doubt licking his lips in anticipation of the kill.
Additional reporting by correspondents in Burma.