A Burmese court has rejected an appeal by Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the democratic opposition to the country’s military government, against an extension to her house arrest.
Ms Suu Kyi has spent more than 14 of the past 19 years, since her National League for Democracy won an overwhelming victory in general elections, under house arrest. She was sentenced to an extra 18 months’ confinement in August. Her lawyers said they would appeal against the verdict, which was expected, to the Supreme Court.
The verdict comes against a backdrop of the US state department’s decision to re-engage with the Burmese regime, a policy reversal which led to a flurry of high-level meetings between American and Burmese officials on the fringes of the United Nations General Assembly in New York last week.
The US move is part of a broader western policy shift on Burma .
It used to concentrate on isolating the regime diplomatically and economically but a push for re-engagement is gathering momentum, although the US says that sanctions will remain until there is tangible evidence of progress.
“Lifting or easing sanctions at the outset of a dialogue without meaningful progress on our concerns would be a mistake and would send the wrong message,” Kurt Campbell, US assistant secretary of state, told a Senate hearing on Wednesday.
The Nobel laureate was accused of allowing John Yettaw, an American, to spend one night in her house when he arrived uninvited in May after swimming across the lake that backs onto her house.
Mr Yettaw was sentenced to seven years of hard labour, but was released in August after an appeal by US Senator James Webb .
Ms Suu Kyi appealed against her sentence, which was handed down by a Rangoon court in August, on the grounds that it was based on laws contained in a constitution that had since been superseded.
The move towards re-engagement has been driven by the perception that isolation has done little to change the political environment for the better within Burma while driving the economy into the arms of China.
In spite of her prolonged incarceration, Ms Suu Kyi remains the junta’s most formidable opponent. Analysts say Burma’s highly politicised courts are responding to the government’s desire that Ms Suu Kyi remains out of circulation until after party elections scheduled for next year.
Over the past 20 years, Ms Suu Kyi’s plight has served as a symbol of the larger conflict between the generals who have run the country since 1962 and their opponents.
Her support for sanctions provided much of the moral basis for western attempts to isolate her captors, but Ms Suu Kyi has recently signalled that she may be considering changing her stance.
Mr Nyan Win said that Ms Suu Kyi had sent a letter to Senior General Than Shwe, the regime’s leader, outlining the actions that she believed would lead to the lifting of sanctions, but so far she had not received a response.