“I will never see real democracy flourish in Myanmar. Not in my lifetime. We live in a hopeless situation where even the U.N. secretary-general fails to nudge the stubborn regime,” said U Hla Shwe, a 72-year old retired lawyer.

Gloom in Yangon as Aung San Suu Kyi trial resumes
Along the shores of artificial Inya Lake, the empty compound of Aung San Suu Kyi lies within plain sight as couples stroll the path. Her home also is a curious attraction to onlookers from a hotel a minute’s walk away.

But it is her absence from it that has been on people’s minds lately in and around Yangon _ a hub of commerce and scholarship and the epicenter of anti-government sentiment _ with the trial of the pro-democracy leader set to resume Friday.

The failure of visiting U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to gain a meeting with the opposition leader last weekend or win her release seems to have only intensified widespread feelings of gloom and frustration, though only brief interviews were possible without raising suspicions in this police state. The trial of Suu Kyi, who turned 64 in the city’s Insein Prison last month, had been postponed during the U.N. chief’s visit.

There had been some hope that intervention by the international community might have avoided the continuation of the Nobel Prize laureate’s trial. She faces trumped-up charges that resulted from a bizarre incident involving an American who swam to her home across the artificial lake, a popular place for leisurely walks and sailing.

“I will never see real democracy flourish in Myanmar. Not in my lifetime. We live in a hopeless situation where even the U.N. secretary-general fails to nudge the stubborn regime,” said U Hla Shwe, a 72-year old retired lawyer.

The New Light of Myanmar reported on July 5 that junta leader Senior Gen. Than Shwe denied the U.N. secretary-general’s request for a prison visit because “the case is being heard freely and fairly, so they have no right to arrange a meeting between the UNSG and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.” “Daw” is a term of respect.

Suu Kyi faces up to five years in jail on charges of violating the terms of her long-standing house arrest, after the uninvited American man, also imprisoned at Insein, swam to her tightly guarded lakeside home and stayed two days. He made the same swim last year.

Her defense will call a second witness Friday. Then Suu Kyi’s defense plans to ask the court to give it sufficient time _ about a week _ to prepare for closing arguments. A separate date is expected for the court to deliver the verdict, which could still be appealed.

Her supporters and human rights groups see the trial as an excuse for the government to throw her back in jail, now that they’ve reached the legal limit on detaining her. She has spent nearly 14 of the last 20 years in detention, mostly under house arrest.

It has been two decades since the military refused to hand over control to a civilian government despite Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy winning an extraordinary landslide victory in May 1990. Myanmar, also known as Burma, has been under military rule since 1962.

An editor of a local news magazine, who did not want to be named for fear of retaliation, said, “I had thought that the government was eager to hold all inclusive elections at least to give some credibility to the elections. But after Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was put on trial, I realize that the government was not sincere with the intention.”

Since the referendum last year, when the junta pushed through a 92 percent vote to affirm a new constitution despite the devastation and disorder of Cyclone Nargis, despair set in that anyone’s vote would ever count. Ban’s visit did nothing to alleviate that.

“The government is going to hold the elections to cement their power and they will see to it that they get what they want, so my vote won’t make any difference,” said a 44-year old school teacher named Lei Lei.

Ban said Than Shwe indicated he might finally hand over control and become a civilian himself next year after an election is held. Some people hold out a glimmer of hope that might actually happen.

“Now everybody wants to have democracy _ most of the people,” said a 27-year-old Burmese man who, like many under the watchful eye of the military regime, did not want to be identified for fear harm would come to his family. “Maybe it will take two to three years.”

Even as hopes dim for Suu Kyi’s release and for a freely elected government, some people won’t give up trying.

“I am skeptical that we will ever see change in the country. I will continue fighting for our rights working as a citizen journalist,” said 25-year-old Zaw Zaw, who said he reports for an exiled anti-government media group. “It is dangerous working as a CJ and I am fearful all the time when I might get caught.”


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