US Man Arrested for Entering Suu Kyi Home

source from Irrawaddy news, 09 May 2009

RANGOON — Police tightened security around Burma’s detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Thursday after an American man was arrested for allegedly swimming across a lake and sneaking into her lakeside home.

The Myanma Ahlin newspaper reported that authorities fished the man out of Rangoon’s Inya Lake early Wednesday while he was returning from the visit to Suu Kyi’s home. The report identified the man as John William Yeattaw but gave no details of his motives.

It would be the first time anyone has sneaked into Suu Kyi’s compound or swam across the lake in an attempt to get there.

Aung San Suu Kyi, winner of the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize and leader of democracy movement of Burma, reads in her yard where she was under house arrest. (Photo: Steve McCurry/Magnum Photos)

More than 20 police entered Suu Kyi’s compound Thursday morning, according to neighbors who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals in the military-ruled country. Despite police checkpoints and barbed-wire barricades outside the home, police rarely enter Suu Kyi’s compound, where she has been kept under house arrest for more than 13 of the past 19 years.

The newspaper report said the American man had confessed to swimming across the lake Sunday evening, sneaking into Suu Kyi’s residence and then swimming back late Tuesday before being spotted by police and arrested early Wednesday.

“He secretly entered the house and stayed there,” the newspaper reported, saying that he swam with an empty 5-liter plastic water jug, presumably to use as a float. “Further investigation is under way to find out his motive for secretly entering the restricted area.”

Police confiscated the man’s belongings, which included a US passport, a black backpack, a pair of pliers, a camera and two US 100 dollar bills, the newspaper reported.

A spokesman from the US Embassy in Yangon said consular officers were “seeking access” to the man as is routine in any case of an American citizen arrested overseas.

“Right now we don’t know anything more than what is generally known, that this man was arrested for swimming across the lake and wound up being at Aung San Suu Kyi’s house,” said spokesman Richard Mei, who said he could not immediately confirm the man’s identity or spelling of his name.

Suu Kyi’s home is tightly guarded and she is not allowed visitors, aside from her doctor. Swimming in Inya Lake in the vicinity of Suu Kyi’s compound is not allowed.

Nyan Win, spokesman for her National League for Democracy party, said he had no information about the American visitor aside from what he had read in the state-controlled newspaper. But he said it was worrisome how easily the man accessed the tightly guarded home.

“We are very much concerned of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s security. What happened shows a security lapse,” Nyan Win said. “Daw” is a term of respect in Myanmar.

Suu Kyi has been held without trial for leading an internationally hailed movement for democracy in Myanmar, which has been ruled by the military with an iron fist since 1962.

Her party won Burma’s last elections in 1990, a result the military junta never recognized.

Earlier this week, the junta rejected an appeal to free Suu Kyi, whose most recent period of detention is due to expire May 27, according to the party spokesman.

Suu kyi Asked Questions.

The news reported on Thursday that a US citizen swam across Inya Lake to the home of detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi in Rangoon, where he stayed for a three-day period, has become the talk of Burma.

The man, identified by the government as John Willian [sic] Yeattaw, was reportedly arrested on Wednesday morning as he was swimming away from Suu Kyi’s home.

The lakeside home of Aung San Suu Kyi on Inya Lake in Rangoon, with four policemen in a boat in the foreground. (Photo:AP)

Because of the unexplained sequence of events, many Rangoon residents discount the truth of the government account, which appeared in state-backed media. No other details or motives were provided.

The alleged intrusion into her private compound comes as Suu Kyi’s house arrest is set to expire this month.

“Security personnel found a suspicious looking foreigner swimming with the help of a 5-litre drinking water bottle in Inya Lake” at 5.30 a.m. On Wednesday, the state-run New Light of Myanmar reported. The report was not accompanied by a photograph of the intruder.

The report said “he secretly entered the house and stayed there” on Sunday night and remained there through Tuesday night.

The US Embassy in Rangoon said it has made repeated requests to see the man, which have been denied.

“We would like to confirm the information ourselves and to speak with the man directly,” said embassy spokesman Richard Mei.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s home (see circle) on the south side of Inya Lake in Rangoon and the location of the arrest of a US citizen (see box) near Prome Road.

According to Rangoon residents and journalists contacted by The Irrawaddy, many citizens in the former capital do not believe the story as it has been reported.

“The news of an American guy swimming to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s house is now the talk of the town here,” said a Rangoon journalist who spoke on condition of anonymity.

He said many people think the story was fabricated by the government as propaganda, intended to discredit Suu Kyi and provide an excuse not to release her from house arrest.

A Burmese social worker in Rangoon told The Irrawaddy that the story is confusing.

“Yes, it is the hottest news in the town,” she said. “But people are saying that nobody knows if it is really true. Only Daw Aung San Suu Kyi can tell the truth. And nobody can ask her directly.”

For some members of Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) and other dissidents at home and abroad, the news raised concern about the Nobel laureate’s security. 

“We cannot confirm yet that the news is true or not. However, this is a very dangerous situation for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi if the event really happened,” said Han Thar Myint, an NLD spokesman. “As we know, security forces are supposed to be on the bank of the lake at her compound.” 

An exiled dissident group, the Democratic Party for New Society, announced on Thursday that the incident showed that Suu Kyi’s life was at risk.

Recently the junta rejected an appeal by Suu Kyi’s lawyer for her release, saying the “grounds for her appeal were not strong enough.”

Suu Kyi has been under house arrest for 13 of past 19 years. In 2008, the junta extended her detention for one more year. Her attorney and the government differ on the date when her detention is scheduled to end. According to NLD spokesman Han Thar Myint, the detention is set to expire in May, but authorities said it will be in November. 

Authorities allow only her doctor and two caretakers access inside Suu Kyi’s home. Her family doctor, Tin Myo Win, regularly visits her every first Thursday each month, NLD sources said. Tin Myo Win was scheduled to visit her on Thursday, but he was not available when The Irrawaddy tried to contact him.

If elements of the story are true, the tantalizing questions are what were the man’s motives and did he have any connection with a government, a political group, or was the incident the act of one individual working alone?

In the past, foreigners who entered Burma and who tried to engage in political work or activities have been arrested and threatened with imprisonment.

Usually, they are deported.The US Campaign for Burma, a leading Burma campaign group in the United States, denied any connection with the American who was named in the newspaper report. Other exiled pro-democracy groups have also denied involvement.

Following the incident, US citizens in Burma are reportedly under increased surveillance by Burmese authorities, according to sources in Rangoon.

Two US journalists were reportedly deported from the country on Thursday after authorities learned that they gave a journalism training course in Mandalay.

Suu Kyi’s neighbors said on Friday that authorities had changed security guard personnel at her compound. 

Recently, increased personal attacks on Suu Kyi have appeared on Internet blogs and some observers say they are the work of pro-junta elements.

“Last month, I told the chairman of the NLD that we should expect that there could be some unusual news and attacks on Daw Aung San Suu Kyi ahead of the expiration of her detention date,” said Thein Nyunt, a senior NLD member.




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