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Suu Kyi: Conviction "Totally Unfair"

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YANGON, Myanmar — Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi called the verdict returning her to house arrest "totally unfair," but remains cheerful and alert, her lawyer said Wednesday.

Four of her lawyers were allowed to visit the Nobel Peace Prize laureate at her lakeside home for an hour to discuss an appeal of her conviction Tuesday on charges of violating the terms of her previous house arrest.

A Myanmar court found Suu Kyi, 64, guilty of sheltering an uninvited American visitor. Her sentence of three years in prison with hard labor was reduced to 18 months of house arrest by order of the head of the country's ruling military junta, Senior Gen. Than Shwe.

"Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said the conviction was totally unfair and the court's assessment of the case was not just," lawyer Nyan Win said. "Daw" is a term of respect for older women. Her defense had contended that it was the responsibility of the police guarding her house to keep out intruders.

Suu Kyi's defense team will appeal as soon as it receives a certified copy of the judgment from the district court, Nyan Win said.

The conviction, though expected, drew sharp criticism from world leaders and human rights groups, as well as promises of new European Union sanctions against Myanmar. Her detention will keep her from participating in the junta's planned elections next year, the first polls since 1990, when her party won overwhelmingly but was not allowed to take power.

The U.N. Security Council's five permanent members met for more than an hour at U.N. headquarters in New York on Wednesday but failed to reach agreement on how to respond to the verdict in Suu Kyi's case.

The entire 15-nation council also had met privately Tuesday before sending a U.S.-proposed draft statement back to diplomatic capitals for guidance. The U.S., Britain and France sought a condemnatory statement; China and Russia favored no response or, at best, a weak statement.

"We're working for a common position," said Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, though he acknowledged there were "shades" of disagreement.

British Ambassador John Sawers, this month's council president, said the five nations were "moving in the right direction" and would continue meeting privately but no action was likely until at least Thursday. The five major powers, he added, agreed there should at least be some "common expression."

The pro-democracy leader has been detained for about 14 of the past 20 years for her nonviolent political activities, but this was the first time she faced a criminal trial.

Suu Kyi had been under house arrest since 2003, but was taken to Yangon's Insein Prison in May for trial after American John Yettaw secretly swam to her house and spent two days there.

Yettaw was also convicted of violating the terms of her house arrest, as well as violating immigration laws and a ban on swimming in Inya Lake, on which Suu Kyi's house fronts. He was sentenced to seven years in prison with hard labor.

Suu Kyi was returned to her house Tuesday. Nyan Win said she was well and looked very happy to be home.

"She said she slept well last night," he told reporters. A new barbed-wire fence has been erected at the lakeside entrance to her home, where Yettaw entered.

Suu Kyi also told her lawyers she needed clarification from the authorities regarding the terms of her house arrest, regarding matters such as visitation rights and medical coverage.

Under the court's eight-point stipulation, Suu Kyi and two female companions who stay with her can receive visitors with prior permission from the authorities and have the right to medical treatment by doctors and nurses. Nyan Win said Suu Kyi wanted to know if she could be treated by her personal physician.

Among the statements of condemnation from around the world to Suu Kyi's conviction, a group of 14 Nobel laureates, including the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, called on the U.N. Security Council to take strong action against Myanmar.

The Dalai Lama issued his own message of concern Wednesday, appealing to Myanmar authorities "as a fellow Buddhist ... to show magnanimity and understanding" by releasing Suu Kyi.

President Barack Obama called the conviction a violation of the universal principle of human rights and said Suu Kyi should be released immediately.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called for the release of more than 2,000 political prisoners, including Yettaw.

The country's state-run newspapers, which many in Myanmar normally don't bother to read, were sold out Wednesday with people eager to learn about the verdict.

"I am not surprised that (Suu Kyi) was sentenced to three years because that is what the government wants to do, keep her locked up during the elections," said Soe Nyunt, a 34-year-old grocery shop owner.

"It was at least a relief that Daw Suu is kept in her house. I had thought the government would keep her inside Insein Prison," said Moe Moe, a 45-year-old school teacher.

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