By SAW YAN NAING
John William Yettaw, 53, spent more than a month at a hotel in Mae Sot in November 2008, after he had traveled to Rangoon and visited Aung San Suu Kyi’s compound for the first time.
While in Mae Sot, people recall him saying that he planned to return to visit Suu Kyi again, which led to his second, fateful encounter with Suu Kyi in May, according to Burmese and Thai sources.
Suu Kyi, Yettaw and two others are now standing trial in Insein Prison in Rangoon on charges that they violated her terms of house arrest. Suu Kyi has entered a plea of innocent, saying she had no control over Yettaw’s visit to her compound, where she has been under house arrest for 13 of the past 19 years.
Burmese security forces provide a 24-hour guard around her compound on Inya Lake.
Press reports suggested that when Yettaw went to Rangoon in November of last year he was forced to lay over in Burma due to the closure of Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok, which was seized by Thai protesters led by the People’s Alliance for Democracy.
While in Mae Sot, Yettaw stayed at the Highland Hotel, where he spoke to several people about Burma and made brief comments about Suu Kyi. He openly told people about his first visit to her compound.
He said he was coming back to Mae Sot in April, said a Burmese source.
Sources said that while in Mae Sot, he was frequently accompanied by a Thai woman, and he visited refugee schools where he met children and took notes.
One Burmese source said that few people paid much attention to Yettaw, seeing him as a typical tourist.
Thai security officials are now gathering information on Yettaw, said a Burmese activist who requested anonymity.
According to his family members, Yettaw is still in debt for the expenses he incurred from his first trip to Burma in 2008. Before leaving his home in Falcon, Missouri, Yettaw told his wife, Betty Yettaw, that he planned to visit Asia for a book he is writing, according to an Associated Press story.
Betty Yettaw said she was surprise after hearing that her husband had swam nearly two kilometers across Inya Lake in Rangoon, because he suffers from asthma and diabetes.
Publications and blogs which are closely associated with Burmese authorities of information ministry, such as tharkinwe.com and myanmarnargis.org, posted photos of Yettaw, but there have been no photographs showing the spot where he was arrested by Burmese police.
One conspiracy theory on a Burmese opposition blog, www.niknayman-niknayman.co.cc, contends that Yettaw in fact walked into Suu Kyi’s compound after a taxi driver dropped him in front of Suu Kyi’s home.
The blog alleges that Yettaw walked into the compound after he showed a red card to the guards in front of the democracy leader’s house.
Yettaw, a Mormon, reportedly does not hold strong political views. He receives disability payments from the US Veteran’s Affairs office for Vietnam-related injuries and has pursued studies in psychology.