AUNG SAN SUU KYI RETURNS TO HOUSE ARREST IN THE EARLY 2000s

AUNG SAN SUU KYI ARRESTED AGAIN IN 2000

It seemed whenever the military felt threatened by Aung San Suu Kyi’s grass-roots support, it responded by returning her to detention. In 2000 Aung San Suu Kyi was again placed under house arrest after repeated attempts to leave the capital, Rangoon, to hold political meetings in other parts of the country. In early September 2000, around 200 riot police surrounded Aung San Suu Kyi’s motorcade near Dala and forced them to return to Rangoon after a nine-day standoff. In late September, 2000 she was arrested after she tied to board a train for Mandalay. Dozens of her supporters were also arrested. There was talk that she might face the death penalty for allegedly meeting with leaders of outlawed ethnic insurgencies.

Again as she was confined to her lakeside home, with her phonelines cut. A family friend told AFP, “She exercises and mediates regularly and is in good health...She has trained herself to be able to exist comfortably under diverse conditions...she keeps to a simple diet of rice and vegetables just enough to sustain herself and remain in good health.”

There were some reconciliation efforts. While under house arrest, Aung San Suu Kyi received some home-profile international visitors and held secret talks with the military. As a conciliatory gesture the military regime released hundreds of political prisoners, but hundreds more remained imprisoned and some new ones were detained.

In October 2000, Aung San Suu Kyi began secret talks with the military junta. Substance of the talks remains secret, and U.N. Envoy on Burma, Razali Ismail, acted as a “facilitator.”

Aung San Suu Kyi Released from House Arrest in 2002

Aung San Suu Kyi was released in May 2002 after 19 months of house arrest. After her release, the military regime told her that she was free to travel around the country, meet with superiors and reopen, branch offices of the NLP. Some political prisoners were released. For her part, Aung San Suu Kyi said she would cooperate with the government. The decision to release is believed to have been promoted by Myanmar’s economic problems.

Burma Campaign UK reported: Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrest as “part of a deal negotiated by U.N. Envoy on Burma, Razali Ismail. He had facilitated secret meetings between Aung San Suu Kyi and the military. Confidence building steps had been agreed, including that the dictatorship would stop the vehement attacks on Aung San Suu Kyi in the media, and the NLD would stop publicly calling for sanctions, although its policy of still supporting targeted economic sanctions remained. [Source: Burma Campaign UK |||]

However, when it came to move from confidence building meetings, and instead start dealing with matters of substance, the dictatorship refused to engage in any meaningful dialogue. As a low-level envoy without significant political backing from the U.N. itself or the international community, Razali was unable to persuade the Generals to move the dialogue forward. After waiting patiently, Aung San Suu Kyi began to travel the country, holding meetings at which tens of thousands of people turned out to see her, dashing the hopes of the Generals that during her long period of detention the people would have forgotten her, and her support would have waned.

Aung San Suu Kyi After Her Release from House Arrest in 2002

After her release Aung San Suu Kyi generally spent her mornings at here lakeside home, meeting diplomats and other important people, and her afternoons at the NLP headquarters, meeting with party members.

Aung San Suu Kyi was given more freedom than she had before her arrest. Weeks after she was released, Aung San Suu Kyi visited Mandalay on a 575-kilometer road trip that included stops in towns along the way. In Mandalay she held talks with local members of her party and tried to revive the NLD branch there through meetings with its leaders. She was greeted in Mandalay by a crowds of 300 that grew to 2,000 in a few hours.

In 2003, Aung San Suu Kyi stepped up her activities. She sharply criticized the junta on several occasions and visited representatives from at least a half dozen minorities, including the Karen, Kachin, Arakan, Shan, Chin and Mon. She also visited revered Buddhist monks.

Aung San Suu Kyi visited five of Myanmar’s 10 states. She said that despite promises from the regime to the contrary she and her followers were harassed and intimated. In one incident the NLP reported authorities tried to disperse a crowd with a fire hose. In another they dug up a road to prevent her from reaching her destination.

Attack on Aung San Suu Kyi in 2003

Richard Paddock wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “In 2003, during a period of freedom, Suu Kyi traveled in northern Myanmar, where large numbers of people gathered to see her. At one stop, she climbed atop a firetruck to face down police and firefighters who planned to turn water hoses on the crowd. Later, government-backed thugs armed with clubs and sharpened bamboo sticks attacked her motorcade outside the village of Dipeyin. Some believe the assault was an assassination attempt.Suu Kyi's bodyguards and supporters fended off the attackers and saved her by shielding her with their bodies. The government says four people died in the attack; the opposition says the toll may have reached 200.[Source: Richard Paddock, Los Angeles Times, June 18, 2005]

Burma Campaign UK reported: “The dictatorship began using members of the Union Solidarity and Development Association to harass and attack NLD meetings. This political militia was set up and organised by the military, with Than Shwe, dictator of Burma, as its President. It later transformed as the Union Solidarity and Development Party, the political party front for the military in the elections held on 7th November 2010. [Source: Burma Campaign UK |||]

“On May 30th 2003 members of the USDA attacked a convoy of vehicles Aung San Suu Kyi was travelling in. It was an attempt by the dictatorship to assassinate Aung San Suu Kyi, using a civilian front so as not to take the blame. Aung San Suu Kyi’s driver managed to drive her to safety, but more than 70 of Aung San Suu Kyi’s supporters were beaten to death. The attack became known at the Depayin Massacre. The dictatorship claimed it was a riot between two political groups, incited by the NLD. The United Nations General Assembly called for the incident to be investigated, but it never was.” |||

In what is sometimes referred to as the "Black Friday," Aung San Suu Kyi’s convoy was attacked by thugs backed by the military regime near the town of Dipeyan in northern Myanmar, where she had been meeting with members of her party there and representatives of ethnic minorities. The government claims four people were killed and 50 were injured. The NLP said that at least 70 people were killed, perhaps scores, including five NLP members. Many were injured. People were beaten with bamboo sticks and rods and shot at with slingshots and perhaps firearms. More than a hundred were arrested.

According to government sources Aung San Suu Kyi was driving in a convoy of 15 cars and 100 motorbikes and the convoy was confronted by a mob of 5,000 people. They said a scuffle grew into a larger fight that lasted for about two hours and was finally put down by police. Aung San Suu Kyi told Razali Ismail, she heard a “commotion” from behind. “They tried to smash the windows of her car,” he said. “She was protected by her people.” The attackers threw stones at her four-wheel-drive vehicle which was able to speed off “ U.S. diplomats found bamboo staves and iron bars at the scene. A U.S. State Department report found that the attack was premeditated and the thugs that were involved had connections with the military regime.

For about three months Aung San Suu Kyi’s whereabouts was unknown. She was finally discovered at a Yangon hospital in September. There were rumors that Aung San Suu Kyi been seriously injured or even killed. As it turned out she was unhurt. U.N. envoy Razili Ismail met with her a couple of weeks after the attack and said: “I can assure you she is well and in good spirits...no injury on the face, no broken arm. No injury. No scratch. No nothings.” He said Suu Kyi’s car managed to speed off when the violence began. [Source: Richard Paddock, Los Angeles Times, June 18, 2005]

In April 2012, The Bangkok Post newspaper published a recording of a conversation with Myanmar intelligence chief Khin Nyunt. In it, according to The Irrawaddy, he claims to have personally intervened to save the life of Aung San Suu Kyi when a pro-junta mob attacked her motorcade in Sagaing Division in 2003, killing at least 70 of her supporters. “I sent my men to snatch her from the mob that night and they brought her to safety to a nearby army cantonment,” he was quoted as saying. Later, however, Khin Nyunt denied that he had made the claim and the Special Branch, a Burmese security unit, put out a statement that rejected The Bangkok Post article. [Source: The Irrawaddy, March 20, 2013]

Aung San Suu Kyi Arrested Again in 2003

Aung San Suu Kyi was arrested in May 2003 after her convoy was attacked. She was charged with disturbing the peace, charges she thought were outrageous since she was attacked. The regime said she and her followers “conspired to create an anarchic situation...with a view to attaining power.” they also said she attempted “to lure armed groups...to join in the planned uprising.”

The arrest followed weeks of rising tensions. In the days after Aung San Suu Kyi’s arrest NLP offices were closed across Myanmar. There were clashes between supporters of the NLP and supporters of the regime. The military regime shut down the NLD headquarters didn’t allow it to reopen until 2004.

Aung San Suu Kyi was kept at a secret location. The government said that were holding Aung San Suu Kyi in “protective custody” because of rumors that assassin were trying to kill here. 2003. It was originally reported that Aung San Suu Kyi was detained in the notorious Insein prison outside of Rangoon and was still wearing the clothes she was arrested in six weeks later. The British Foreign Office reported she was confined to a “two-room hut.” Later she was moved to a guesthouse. A Red Cross representative who met her in July said she was in “a very decent place and the conditions were also very descent.”

During her arrest, Aung San Suu Kyi continually refused offers of freedom in exchange for exile from the country and, despite an ongoing debate in the pro-democracy movement over future strategy, her stature throughout Myanmar was as high as ever.

In September 2003, Aung San Suu Kyi underwent three hours surgery in a Rangoon hospital for gynecological problems. The operation was a success. After the surgery she was placed under house arrest. In late 2003, She met with senior members of the NLP in late 2003. In April 2004, Aung San Suu Kyi still detained when National League of Democracy Chairman Aung Shwe and the party’ secretary U Lwin were released from house arrest. There was some speculation at that time that she might be freed. In August 2004, she was still detained when United Nations General Secretary Kofi Annan called for her release and the establishment of dialogue with opposition parties and ethnic minorities, and democratic reforms. The Myanmar government is said to have welcomed Annan’s remarks.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s Detention After Her 2003 Arrest

After the attack on Aung San Suu Kyi in May 2003, Suu Kyi was held in detention, and then placed back under house arrest the government said for “protective custody.” He phone was cut and access to visitors was restricted. In November, she was reportedly offered her freedom but she refused unless everyone else arrested with her in May 2003 was also released. Altogther Aung San Suu Kyi was under house arrest from 1989 to 1995, 2000 to 2002, and from May 2003 to November 2010. After her 2003 detention her house arrest was extended on a year by year basis.

Burma Campaign UK reported: “During this period of detention, conditions were much stricter than in the past. Her phone line was cut, her post stopped and National League for Democracy volunteers providing security at her compound were removed in December 2004. Diplomats were generally not allowed to meet her, although occasionally U.N. envoys and US government officials were allowed to meet her. However, even U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was not allowed to meet her when he visited the country in 2009. [Source: Burma Campaign UK]

In January 2007 Myanmar’s military junta accused Aung San Suu Kyi of tax evasion for not spending her Nobel Peace Prize money inside the country.

In May 2007, Aung San Suu Kyi’s term of house arrest was extended for another year. The same happened in 2008. Aung San Suu Kyi’s lawyers argued that the junta could not legally hold her over five years. The government said the detention was permissible under a 1975 “Law safeguarding the State from dangers of Subversive Elements.”

In September 2007, Aung San Suu Kyi left her house to greet and pray with Buddhist monks outside her gate during the biggest demonstrations in Burma since the 1988 uprising. This is the first time she has been seen in public since 2003.

United Nations Envoys

In April 2001, Malaysian diplomat Razali Ismail was appointed special envoy of the United Nations in charge rage of trying to reconcile the military regime and Aung San Suu Kyi and restore democracy. He visited Myanmar and regularly met with the generals. He engaged in confidence-build talks between Aung San Suu Kyi and the junta.

Razali, a career diplomat, was largely praised for his work. He made more than a dozen trips to Myanmar and met both with Aung San Suu Kyi and the generals. He is credited with helping win Aung San Suu Kyi’s release in 2002. He was criticized however for having a conflict of interest because he ran and partly owned a company that did work with the Myanmar generals. In March 2004 Razali Ismail had his last meeting Aung San Suu Kyi.

There had been some discussion of Nelson Mandela acting as mediator between the regime and the Aung San Suu Kyi. After Razali Ismail finished his stint at U.N. envoy he was replaced by Ibrahim Gambari, U.N. Undersecretary-General for Political Affairs. In May 2006, Ibrahim Gambari met Aung San Suu Ky. It was the first visit by a foreign official since Razali’s visit in 2004. Gambari met Aung San Suu Kyi again in November 2006 and September 2007 but his visits failed to secure any concessions from Burma’s military regime. In November 2007, Ibrahim Gambari met Aung San Suu Kyi and released a statement by her.

Support for Aung San Suu Kyi from World Leaders and Protesters

May 2007, AFP reported: “US ex-president Bill Clinton and 56 other former world leaders have appealed to Myanmar's military regime to free opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, a Norwegian peace institute said. In a letter dated May 14 and addressed to the head of the Myanmar junta General Than Shwe, the 57 signatories called "for the immediate release of the world's only imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi", the Oslo Center for Peace and Human rights said. "Aung San Suu Kyi is not calling for revolution in Burma, but rather peaceful, non-violent dialogue, between the military, National League for Democracy (Suu Kyi's party), and Burma's ethnic groups," the letter said. [Source: AFP, May 14, 2007]

Initiated by Norway's former prime minister Kjell Magne Bondevik, it was also signed by Clinton and former leaders Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan, Brian Mulroney of Canada, Junichiro Koizumi of Japan, former US president Jimmy Carter and ex-European Commission president Jacques Delors. Others included ex-presidents George Bush, Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brazil, Vaclav Havel of the Czech Republic, Fidel Ramos of the Philippines, Ricardo Lagos of Chile and Kim Dae-Jung of South Korea.

U.S. President Barack Obama called Suu Kyi "a hero of mine," adding, "whether Aung San Suu Kyi is living in the prison of her house or the prison of her country does not change the fact that she, and the political opposition she represents, has been systematically silenced, incarcerated and deprived of any opportunity to engage in political processes that could change Burma." [Source: Hannah Beech, Time, November 29, 2010]

Among Aung San Suu Kyi’s biggest supporters over the years have been former political prisoner and Czech President Vaclav Havel and South African Archbishop Desmnd Tutu. In October 2007, protests were staged in Bangkok, London, Paris, New York, Rome and Toronto demanding Aung San Suu Kyi’s release after 12 years in captivity. On her 61st birthday in 2006 rallies were held in 25 countries in Asia, Europe and North America.

Support for Aung San Suu Kyi from Celebrities

Richard Paddock wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “Rock musicians, including Paul McCartney, U2 and Pearl Jam, have dedicated songs to her. In a concert in Ireland, REM plans to perform a song for her that will be beamed into Myanmar by satellite even though it will be illegal to watch it.... Rep. Tom Lantos (D-San Mateo) tried to deliver 6,000 birthday cards for Suu Kyi at the Myanmar Embassy in Washington. No one accepted them. [Source: Richard Paddock, Los Angeles Times, June 18, 2005]

U2 singer Bono often wore an Aung San Suu Kyi T-shirt. In Time magazine, he wrote: “Suu Kyi is a real hero in an age of phony phone-in celebrity...Her quiet voice of reason makes the world look noisy, mad; it is a low matra of grace in an age of terror...Thinking of her you can’t help but put in the anachronistic language of duty and personal sacrifice.” U2 wrote the Grammy-winning song Walk On in her honor.

Ellen Page (the actress from Juno ) and other celebrities appeared in a 2008 ad campaign saying “I am Aung San Suu Kyi.” During her trial Paul McCartney wrote; “Aung San Suu Kyi is an inspiration to her country and the rest of the world . I truly admire her infallible resolve and her determination to stand up for what she believes in.”

In July 2009, Associated Press reported: “Aung San Suu Kyi is receiving Amnesty International’s highest honour, U2’s Bono publicly announced last night before 80,000 cheering fans. The human rights watchdog earlier said it hoped the Ambassador of Conscience Award would help protect her as she faces a potential prison sentence. “Her crime is that, if she was free to participate in elections, she would win. This week the brutal force that has her incarcerated will decide if she spends the next five years in prison,” Bono said. He added his wish that Suu Kyi’s latest international honour “will help keep her safe”. U2 have been honouring Suu Kyi at each performance of the band’s ongoing European tour. More than 100 people walked on stage last night holding Suu Kyi masks over their faces, as U2 performed its 2000 song honouring Suu Kyi, ‘Walk On’.[Source: AP, July 28, 2009]

“The Lady”: Film with Michelle Yeoh Playing Aung San Suu Kyi

“The Lady” (2011) is a film about Aung San Suu Kyi as she becomes the center of Myanmar’s pro-democracy movement, and her relationship with her husband, the Oxford academic and Tibet scholar Michael Aris. Directed by Luc Besson, it stars Michelle Yeoh as Aung San Suu Kyi. According to IMDB: “ “The Lady”is an epic love story about how an extraordinary couple and family sacrifice their happiness at great human cost for a higher cause...Despite distance, long separations, and a dangerously hostile regime, their love endures until the very end. A story of devotion and human understanding set against a background of political turmoil, “The Lady” also is the story of the peaceful quest of the woman who is at the core of Burma's democracy movement. At on point, Giuseppe Tornatore was considered to direct the movie. [Source: IMBD]

The film is titled The Lady after Aung San Suu Kyi's nickname in Burma. It , focuses heavily on the personal sacrifices she made. Aris is played the British actor David Thewlis. Parts of the film were shot in France and Britain. Other parst were shot in Thailand, where Aung San Suu Kyi’s house was recreated. The actors in the scenes set in Myanmar were mostly Burmese and Thais and the film crew was largely Thai. The actor who plays Aung San Suu Kyi’s father, Aung San, really looks like her father. He's a Burmese from the north of Thailand and was honoured to play Aung San. In one scene set in 1947, Burmese soldiers are shown carrying AK-47s. The production of the assault rifle AK-47 began in 1949.

Thanyarat Doksone of Associated Press wrote: “Michelle Yeoh remembers her pride as a Southeast Asian youth when Aung San Suu Kyi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Suu Kyi "was fighting for democracy in a nonviolent way, where passion was the armor and love for liberty was the weapon," Yeoh told The Associated Press. "I've been in the business long enough to recognize what an amazing story that she has that we can tell," she said. "If anybody should play her, it's me." The 49-year-old Yeoh said Suu Kyi is a "very big hero" of hers and she was keen to play her as soon as she heard a film was being made about the life of the 1991 Nobel recipient. [Source: Thanyarat Doksone, Associated Press, February 1, 2012 ++]

Yeoh recalled watching news coverage of Suu Kyi's 2010 release along with director Besson, the other lead actors, and Suu Kyi's son, Kim Aris. She said she played the identical scene of Suu Kyi coming up the gate and waving at the crowd earlier that morning. "We were so crazily happy that finally ... she was freed," she said. ++

Yeoh traveled to Myanmar and met Suu Kyi in December 2010. "I was extremely nervous because I was afraid she would look at me and go 'Whoa, my god, why are you portraying me?'" she said. "But when she was in front of me, all she did was she open her arms, (and) welcome me like a family member." "She's one of those people that you meet and you'll never forget," Yeoh said. Yeoh's enthusiasm for the cinematic Suu Kyi is not entirely requited. Suu Kyi said in an interview at her Yangon home last month that she doesn't plan to see the movie. "I don't really like seeing films which are supposed to be about me," she said. ++

Aung San Suu Kyi 2007 Statement On Willingness to Cooperate with the Government

Aung San Suu Kyi met several times with U Aung Kyi, a senior junta official that served as a liaison between Suu Kyi and the junta leaders. In October 2007, for example, they met but no details of their discussion are made public.

In November 2007 a statement by Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi released by U.N. envoy Ibrahim Gambari. It was her first public comment since being placed under house arrest in 2003. Gambari spent six days in Yangon waiting a meeting with the generals that never happened and just as he was ready to leave empty handed Aung San Suu Kyi was escorted under police guard to a meeting with him, giving him the statement. [Source: AP, November 9, 2007]

Following is the text of the statement; “I wish to thank all those who have stood by my side all this time, both inside and outside my country. I am also grateful to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr. Ban Ki-moon, for his unwavering support for the cause of national reconciliation, democracy and human rights in my country. I welcome the appointment on 8 October of Minister Aung Kyi as Minister for Relations. Our first meeting on 25 October was constructive and I look forward to further regular discussions. I expect that this phase of preliminary consultations will conclude soon so that a meaningful and timebound dialogue with the SPDC leadership can start as early as possible.

“In the interest of the nation, I stand ready to cooperate with the Government in order to make this process of dialogue a success and welcome the necessary good offices role of the United Nations to help facilitate our efforts in this regard. In full awareness of the essential role of political parties in democratic societies, in deep appreciation of the sacrifices of the members of my party and in my position as General Secretary, I will be guided by the policies and wishes of the National League for Democracy. However, in this time of vital need for democratic solidarity and national unity, it is my duty to give constant and serious considerations to the interests and opinions of as broad a range of political organizations and forces as possible, in particular those of our ethnic nationality races.

“To that end, I am committed to pursue the path of dialogue constructively and invite the Government and all relevant parties to join me in this spirit. I believe that stability, prosperity and democracy for my country, living at peace with itself and with full respect for human rights, offers the best prospect for my country to fully contribute to the development and stability of the region in close partnership with its neighbors and fellow ASEAN members, and to play a positive role as a respected member of the international community.”

The statement came weeks after the September protests that left at least 10 people dead. Afterwards she was allowed to meet wih here advsiors for the first time in years. The series of events indicated that Suu Kyi was willing to copperate with the Myanmar government and seem to indicate the generals were open to more openness and negotiations.

Aung San Suu Kyi After the 2007 Statement

Aung San Suu Kyi continued to meet with labor minister Aung Kyi. When asked what she thought of him, she told the Washington Post: “He is intelligent, which is a plus. He has goodwill. He wants the right kind of changes. Before 2004, they had a designated liaison officer. But he was removed. My first liaison officer was a major, and he rose through the ranks. At the end he was a brigadier. I knew some of the army quite well. I was the responsibility of the military intelligence. [Source: Lally Weymouth, Washington Post, January 20, 2012]

In February 2009, Gambari met jointly with Suu Kyi and members of the National League for Democracy. In March 2009, The U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention issued a judgment declaring that the ongoing detention of Aung San Suu Kyi was illegal and in violation of both Burmese and international law. In July 2009, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon visited Burma but is not allowed to meet Aung San Suu Kyi.

In October 2009, after Aung San Suu Kyi met with Aung Kyi it was revealed that before the meeting Suu Kyi wrote a letter to Myanmar leader Than Shwe offering suggestions on how to get Western sanctions imposed on Myanmar lifted. Aung San Suu Kyi had long been a supporter of sanction but in the late 2000s she began easing her stance on the issue

In October 2009, Aung San Suu Kyi met the UK Ambassador and the deputy heads of the Australian and US missions in Burma. In November 2009 she met a US delegation led by Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell. In December 2009, Aung San Suu Kyi met with NLD party leaders Aung Shwe, U Lwin and Lun Ti.n

Aung San Suu Kyi’s Trial in 2009

In May 2009, just days before her period of house arrest was due to expire, Aung San Suu Kyi was arrested and charged with breaking the terms of her house arrest, which forbids visitors without official permission, after John Yettaw, a United States citizen, swam across Inya lake to her house and refused to leave—and stayed there for two days.

Yettaw appeared at her house uninvited after swimming across the lake in central Yangon using home-made flippers, to her house, which sits on the lake. She faced up to five years if convicted. Her defense lawyers did not contest the facts of the case but argued the relevant law was misapplied by the authorities. They also said the security guards were responsible for stopping intruders not Suu Kyi. Two of Suu Kyi’s assistants that lived with her were also charged.

During much of the trial Suu Kyi was held and tried at Rangoon's notorious Insein prison. At one point there were concerns about here health when she complained she couldn’t sleep because of severe leg cramps. She was also treated for dehydration and low blood pressure. She denied the charges. Her chief lawyer was Nyan Win, who was also spokesman for her party. Riot police were deployed outside the prison. Myanmar’s foreign minister said the trial was “not political” and was not a “human rights issue.” He accused the international community of meddling.

During the trial Suu Kyi was denied access to her lawyers. Her legal team was prevented from calling witnesses. The ruling on the case was delayed Nyan Win said, because the prosecution had “serious legal problems.” Before her sentencing Suu Kyi prepared for the worst by stockpiling medicine and books in English, French and Burmese.

Joshua Hammer wrote in The New Yorker, “On May 3, 2009, four weeks before Aung San Suu Kyi’s scheduled release from detention, John Yettaw, an American Vietnam veteran, swam across Inya Lake to her villa. He later claimed that he had been motivated by a vision of her impending assassination and needed to warn her. Yettaw had made the same swim a few months earlier, but had been turned away by her assistants. “I didn’t see him at all the first time,” Aung San Suu Kyi told me. When he appeared dripping wet at her door in May, “he said he was not in a condition to swim back, and obviously I didn’t want to send him back out into the lake to be drowned.” She was aware that she had just given the regime an excuse to keep her in detention, but “I felt I could not hand over anybody to be arrested by the authorities when so many of our people had been arrested and not been given a fair hearing,” she said. “It was a matter of principle. The regime charged her and her two assistants with receiving an unauthorized visitor and incarcerated them, and Yettaw, at Insein Prison, in Rangoon. [Source: Joshua Hammer, The New Yorker, January 24, 2011 /\]

Yettaw reached Suu Kyi’s house on May 4. Suu Kyi testified in court: “I didn’t know about it [Yettaw’s visit] immediately . I was informed about it at 5:00am My assistant told me that a man had arrived. When asked if she informed military authorities, she said: “I did not inform them.” When asked if she breached the terms if her house arrest, she replied, “I didn’t.” On claims she gave Yettaw food and water, she said, “I allowed him to have temporary shelter. Suu Kyi said he left at 11:45pm, adding: “I only knew that he went to the lakeside. I did not know which way he went because it was dark.” When the judge asked if she was guilty, Suu Ki said,, “No because I did not commit any crime. ” She blamed lax security. “If the security had been proper, he wouldn’t have got here,” Suu Kyi later told her lawyers.

Sentencing of Aung San Suu Kyi’s Trial in 2009

After the two-and-a-half-month show trial, the women were sentenced to three years of hard labor in an apparent attempt to placate international outrage about the trial (she could have been sentenced to five years). General Than Shwe commuted the sentences to eighteen months of house arrest. By coincidence, this meant her release date turned out to be just sex days after elections held in Burma, thereby ensuring that once again she was in detention during elections. Yettaw was sentenced to seven years in prison, but was released days later to United States Senator Jim Webb.

It was the first time Suu Kyi was found guilty of a crime. Observers believe that Myanmar’s military leaders seized the swimming incident as an opportunity to keep Suu Kyi detained during elections, which took place in 2010. The case though proved to be a headache for the junta as it was widely condemned by the international community and was given a lot of press, which mostly made Myanmar and the junta look bad. After the sentencing Suu Ki renovated her house and had security improvements made to prevent future trespassing incidents. Her party said she paid for the renovations and fixed her balcony herself.

Richard Lloyd Parry wrote in The Times, “Foreign diplomats and Burmese journalists who were allowed to attend the final hearing of what had mostly been a closed trial, said that Ms Suu Kyi reacted calmly as the verdict and sentence were read out by the senior of the two judges. One senior diplomat told The Times: “There was an audible gasp of indignation, when the first verdict came — hard labour for this small, almost fragile woman.” Then the Home Affairs Minister, Major-General Maung Oo, unexpectedly appeared in court and read a statement from General Than Shwe, halving the sentence and allowing Ms Suu Kyi to serve it under house arrest rather than in jail. He referred to the importance of “preserving community peace and tranquillity” and to Ms Suu Kyi’s status as the daughter of Burma’s post-war independence leader, Aung San. Before leaving the court, she told the 30 diplomats in attendance: “I look forward to working with you in the future for the peace and prosperity of my country and the region.” She was then returned to the home where she was arrested three months ago. [Source: Richard Lloyd Parry, The Times, August 12, 2009]

Aung San Suu Kyi appealed the ruling three times and lost each time. Myanmar’s highest court agreed to hear here final appeal about a month before her release. Days after the November 2010 elections and days before she was released it posted a decision on a public notice board that said her appeal had been turned down and little more than that.

Fate of John Yettaw

Yettaw was also imprisoned at Insein prison and tried at the same time as Aung San Suu Kyi. During the trial he was hospitalized after suffering repeated epileptic seizures. He was charged with abetting Aung San Suu Kyi in violating the terms of her house arrest and swimming in a no swimming zone and immigration violations. He testified in the trail that he swam to Suu Kyi’s house to deliver a warning the he had a “vision she would be assassinated.” He brought with him a letter and book on the Mormon faith.

Yettaw was given a seven year sentence. He is a devout Mormon from Falcon, Missouri. He was described in the press as being “mentally ill” and suffering from “post-traumatic stress.” After his release he told CNN, “Little did I I know they were going to arrest her and put her on trial,” insisting he was perfectly sane, “I wept every day, I suffered every day.” He said his motivations were purely humanitarian.”

In August 2009, U.S. Senator Jim Webb won the release of Yettaw, and met with Aung San Suu Kyi. Webb chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and has been a vocal critic of the Myanmar junta. He met with Myanmar leader Than Shwe took days after a court found Suu Kyi and Yettaw guilty.

John Yettaw’s Mission to Burma

Tony Dokoupil wrote in Newsweek: “For years, John Yettaw had experienced visions that warned him of events to come. Sometimes the Missouri resident ignored them and came to regret it. This time, though, he intended to act. In early 2009, the 53-year-old told friends and family that he had seen himself as a man sent by God to protect the life of a beloved foreign leader. He arranged for his kids to stay with a friend, borrowed money to buy a plane ticket and printed new business cards, as if launching a new life. [Source: Tony Dokoupil, Newsweek, June 22, 2009 ><]

“Sometime after 3 a.m. on April 15, he woke his son Brian, 17, and his three younger children for a family prayer, and piled them into a minivan for the hourlong drive to the airport. Unlike the backpack tour Yettaw had taken through Asia late last year, this trip would propel him into the heart of Burma's repressive regime. On the 20th, he flew to Bangkok, where he spent a week waiting for his Burmese visa and sending whimsical e-mails home, including a final cheerful message: "Pray. Study peace. Live calmness. Kindness toward everyone. Love and pray." ><

“The next word the family got regarding Yettaw came in a 5 a.m. phone call from the consulate at the U.S. Embassy in Rangoon. He had been arrested just past dawn on May 6, seized as he kicked through the soupy brown waters of Inya Lake, a man-made reservoir some four miles from his hotel. He had made an unauthorized and uninvited two-day visit to the weathered colonial-style home of Aung San Suu Kyi. Suu Kyi says that she asked Yettaw to leave, but relented when he complained of hunger and exhaustion. ><

“Judging from the line of questioning in court, Burmese authorities suspect he intended to help Suu Kyi escape. At the start of the legal proceedings last month, they presented two black chadors, two long skirts, three pairs of sunglasses, six colored pencils, flares, flashlights and a pair of pliers as evidence of a getaway plot. Yettaw was also carrying empty jugs he used for buoyancy, and a camera wrapped in plastic with a picture of the improvised flippers he used for the mile-long swim. "He had no criminal intent," Yettaw's lawyer, Khin Maung Oo, told Newsweek, adding that the only charge he should face is "lurking house-trespass," a lesser crime on the books in Burma. "He has no relationship with anything political. His only mission was to save her."” ><

“Yettaw's friends and family describe him as well-intentioned and highly spiritual person whose struggles with alcoholism and mental illness may have pushed him into history's path. "I don't think he's well," says Yvonne Yettaw, the third of his four wives—echoing the sentiments of other loved ones who believe that he may suffer from untreated bipolar and posttraumatic stress disorders. The only problem is neither Yvonne nor anybody else seems to fully understand the often secretive father of seven. As a result, they offer contradictory, incomplete and occasionally fantastical ideas about what Yettaw was up to.><

“Betty, Yettaw's fourth and current wife, believes he was compelled by God, but also wanted to interview Suu Kyi for a book he is writing about how people recover from trauma. ("If they let her go, he'd never get to see her," Betty says.) Ex-wife Yvonne says the Burma trip was about business: her ex-husband and Suu Kyi, she heard incorrectly, had coauthored a book together. And a close friend of Yettaw's—who requested anonymity owing to the sensitivity of the family's situation—says that John uncovered Burmese (and Chinese) state secrets that compelled him to act. "If they knew, they'd kill him," the friend says ominously. Brian and Carley, his 20-year-old daughter, say their father was going to warn Suu Kyi that her life was in danger following a tip-off from God—an account that roughly matches Yettaw's testimony that "terrorists" were going to assassinate her and blame the government. ><

Yettaw, for his part, "is prepared for any punishment they impose on him," according to his lawyer. In prison, with two Burmese cellmates, he is refusing food in an effort to give himself another vision. He often cries at the thought of "suffering, war and cruelty" in the world. But at the same time, the lawyer says, he is "very happy." "He knows very well that Suu Kyi is in trouble. But that is for the time being. Instead of losing her life, he saved her—this is what he thinks." ><

Story of John Yettaw

Tony Dokoupil wrote in Newsweek: “The facts of Yettaw's life are also murky, even to his family. After years of his erratic behavior and unsatisfying explanations, they have come to accept him the way he is—bighearted but unsteady. This is what they've been told (although aside from Yettaw's birthplace and his military records, little can be independently verified): he and a twin sister were born in a Detroit housing project in 1955—the youngest of five siblings and the only ones to survive into adulthood (an older sister died in a swimming accident, a brother committed suicide in a mental hospital and another sister was born with severe handicaps and died in an institution). As a 7- or 8-year-old, he has told family, he was molested by a volunteer "big brother" after his father left home, before his mother's drinking cost her custody. Sent to live with relatives in California, Yettaw ran away from home at 16 and lived in his car until he was old enough to join the Army in 1973. His family believes that Yettaw did a combat stint somewhere in Asia during the Vietnam War; he told them that his time there brought on bouts of PTSD. The military's National Personnel Records Center, however, says that he spent 10 months in Germany before being discharged in 1974 after little more than a year of service. [Source: Tony Dokoupil, Newsweek, June 22, 2009 ><]

“Back in the United States, an unplanned pregnancy led to a quickie marriage at 20, a divorce two years later and a decade of drinking, according to Yvonne. Yettaw married again in his mid-20s, only to divorce seven years later. He met Yvonne, the mother of six of his seven children, at a church singles event shortly after his conversion to Mormonism in his early 30s. Yettaw liked the church's belief in conversions for the dead because he wanted to reunite with his whole family in the afterlife, she says. Around the same time, he experienced the first in a series of visions: a dream that his father, whom Yettaw had not heard from since John was 2, was in Falcon, Mo. Remarkably, he was in fact living in Falcon, and John soon moved Yvonne and his children nearby. Things looked up for a while. But over the next few years, personal tragedies pulled Yettaw's life in strange new directions, and ultimately toward Burma. ><

“After a house fire and a messy divorce from Yvonne, Yettaw found himself living in a trailer on his property, where a veritable Noah's Ark of trash began to accumulate on the lawn: two broken-down cars, two derelict trucks, two rusted satellite dishes and a pair of portable basketball hoops that still stand in the tall, tick-infested grass. Debt began to snowball, as Yettaw pursued increasingly impractical dreams. He started driving a USA Tours bus in part to ferry soldiers from their homes to nearby Fort Leonard Wood, began work on a 6,000-square-foot turreted home and started putting up drifters in a local hotel. ><

A darker side also emerged. He put his thumb through a man's eye during a fight in a bar parking lot, say Brian and Yvonne, and, according to police records, spat in the face of a woman who accused him of taking her car. (Although no charges were filed, Yettaw admitted to the spitting, and the woman won a restraining order against him.) In 1997 he graduated cum laude from Drury University with a triple major in psychology, criminal justice and biology, only to be forced from a doctoral program at the Springfield, Mo.–based Forest Institute's School of Professional Psychology in 2007. According to family, he was "blacklisted" for exploding at a professor during a field trip to an area mental hospital. (Forest officials declined to comment, citing privacy regulations.) Determined to get back on track, he was set to speak with school officials at the institute on the very day a far worse crisis engulfed the family. ><

“Before dawn on Aug. 2, 2007, 17-year-old Clint Yettaw was speeding on his Yamaha 650—a bike his father got him for his birthday the previous summer. Clint hit a deer at such a fatal velocity, according to police, that he split the animal in two. Yettaw blamed himself for failing to act on a premonition of Clint's death a few weeks earlier. He buried his son in the front yard, in a plain grave surrounded by cinder blocks. It was a pivotal event for Yettaw, who soon decided he needed a break. "He was like, 'Get me away from here'," says Betty. ><

“In May 2008, he and Brian headed to Asia for a six-month tour, where Yettaw's fascination with Suu Kyi began. After Brian returned to school in early September, Yettaw headed to Mae Sot, a relaxed and slightly untidy Thai town known for drugs, human trafficking and other shady activities. Located on the Moei River across from the Burmese town of Myawaddy, Mae Sot is filled with agents of the Burmese military who mix in with the general population. "There's all kinds of intrigue going on," says Aung Zaw, editor of The Irrawaddy, an expatriate Burmese magazine published in Chiang Mai, in northern Thailand. ><

“Yettaw knocked around town for a few weeks, taking a second-floor room in a cheap hotel. He also picked up a motorcycle and a Thai companion, according to the hotel owner, who ate with his Missouri guest almost every day. It was then—late September through early November 2008—that Yettaw began to get political, says the owner. He "talked about Aung San Suu Kyi and said Myanmar [the name the junta gave Burma] would never be a true democracy without her. He said he really needed to do something to better bring the world's attention to The Lady and Myanmar." Yettaw was making the rounds of a few NGOs in Thailand, trying unsuccessfully to get them to accept him as a kind of adjunct staff member, according to a relief worker who, like others interviewed for this story, requested anonymity out of fear of government retaliation. Another relief worker described Yettaw as "delusional," "unstable" and "hyperactive." "He's a nice person, well intentioned; he's not going to hurt you," the person says, but "he was saying, 'God told me this; God told me that'." It's hard to know for sure what happened next. It's possible that Yettaw acted alone, or else took an innocent conversation to be something more. But some time in October, he told the hotel owner about another dream, a vision of himself as a champion of the downtrodden. Then he disappeared, leaving behind an unpaid bill. He resurfaced in Bangkok on Oct. 27 to collect a Burmese visa, government records show, and flew to Rangoon on Nov. 7. ><

“Three weeks later, on Nov. 30, according to court testimony, he made the first of his two attempts to reach Suu Kyi's house by swimming across the lake, but was turned away by her two on-site companions. At home in Missouri the next month, he told family that he had been captured at gunpoint on his way back from her house, but was released after authorities bought his story about having been fishing. (Burmese authorities have apparently not raised this point at the trial, and would not comment further.) Upset that he had been so close to Suu Kyi without having met her, he began mulling a second trip almost immediately. ><

In Yangon “The locals are less reticent about Yettaw. To some, he's a heroic idealist; to others, he's a dangerous imbecile who has jeopardized Suu Kyi's freedom and the possibility of democracy. Htay Aung, a former Burmese political prisoner in exile in Thailand, says Yettaw made "the complications more complicated. Now we don't know what's going to happen to Burma." ><

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, The Irrawaddy, Myanmar Travel Information Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, burmalibrary.org, burmanet.org, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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