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Published: Wednesday, 6/3/2009

Myanmar misrule

IT IS AMAZING the ends to which a

despotic regime will go to stifle opposition.

A prime example is the trial of Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the key figure in the rival movement to the generals ruling the country formerly known as Burma.

That is not to say that Ms. Suu Kyi does not constitute formidable opposition to Myanmar's generals, ruling under the name State Peace and Development Council, in power since 1962.

Her party, the National League for Democracy, won the country's most recent elections, held in 1990, which resulted in her having been kept under house arrest for the most part ever since.

Her father, Gen. Aung San, was considered the father of his country's independence, although he was a controversial figure who was ultimately assassinated.

The generals have scheduled elections of a sort for next year and would like to have Ms. Suu Kyi, 63, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, off the scene.

Toward that end, they have taken a very strange incident involving an odd American as reason for putting her on trial, charging her with having broken the terms of her house arrest. On the night of May 3, John H. Yettaw, 53, swam across a lake adjacent to Ms. Suu Kyi's residence, turning up on her doorstep saying he was too tired to swim back.

Trying to be polite, she and her staff took him in, thus opening herself up to charges that she had violated a clause forbidding "unauthorized foreign or overnight visitors" in the terms of her house arrest.

The weird part is that Mr. Yettaw had with him a collection of items, including two signal lights, Muslim women's robes, and swimming goggles, which someone with a vivid imagination - or advanced paranoia - about the CIA might think could be used by the Myanmar opposition leader in a reverse swim across the lake to freedom. Her lawyer has described Mr. Yettaw simply as "a fool."

The guess is that the Myanmar court will find Ms. Suu Kyi guilty and extend her house arrest by five years, until well past next year's elections.

What the military junta, led by Senior Gen. Than Shwe, doesn't seem to grasp is that persecuting Ms. Suu Kyi serves no purpose in terms of reducing her popularity among the Myanmar population and only improves her party's prospects in the elections.

We have no empathy for the ruling junta, a bunch of dishonest despots with no respect for democracy or human rights, but the best outcome would be for the Myanmar government to dismiss the case, laughing the charges against her out of court.

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