SINGAPORE - Myanmar's junta defended its prosecution of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, accusing her yesterday of covering up the truth when she let an uninvited American man stay in her house.
The comments marked the first time a top official from the reclusive regime has appeared in a public forum to justify its actions, which have drawn widespread international condemnation, including from its closest neighbors in Southeast Asia.
"If offenders are not [prosecuted], anarchy will prevail, and there will be breach of peace and security," Myanmar Deputy Defense Minister Maj. Gen. Aye Myint told a security conference.
The junta has charged Suu Kyi with violating the terms of her house arrest by sheltering American John W. Yettaw after he secretly swam to her lakeside residence in early May. Suu Kyi's attorneys have said Yettaw sneaked onto her property and have blamed security guards who monitor her under house arrest for the breach.
Suu Kyi has been in detention without trial for more than 13 of the last 19 years. If convicted by the court, which operates under the influence of the ruling military and almost always deals harshly with political dissidents, she could face up to five years in jail.
Aye Myint said Suu Kyi was charged because she allowed a foreigner to stay in her house, communicated with him, and provided him food and shelter instead of informing police.
The police noted that Suu Kyi "committed a cover-up of the truth by her failure to report an illegal immigrant," he told the Shangri-La Dialogue, an annual forum of defense ministers, academics, experts, and analysts.
"Thus, there was no option but to proceed with legal proceedings," he said. "It is the universal legal principle that no one is above the law."
He said other countries "should refrain from interfering in internal affairs that will affect the peace and security of the region." Otherwise, it "may possibly affect mutual understanding and friendly relations" with other countries, he said.
He said the junta was committed to democracy and would hold elections in 2010, but few people believe the ruling generals will give up power easily. They see the election promise as a delaying tactic to keep international criticism at bay, and some have suggested Suu Kyi's trial is meant to ensure that she is in jail during the vote.