YANGON - Army-ruled Myanmar opened the trial of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Wednesday in an apparent bid to calm growing international outrage at the regime and its latest crackdown on the Nobel Peace laureate.
Suu Kyi appeared healthy and confident during the 45-minute hearing watched by some 30 diplomats and a handful of Burmese journalists on the third day of her trial inside Yangon's notorious Insein Central Prison.
The 63-year-old, known affectionately as The Lady by her supporters, faces up to five years in jail if found guilty of breaking the terms of her latest house arrest.
Thank you very much for coming and for your support, Suu Kyi, dressed in a pink blouse and maroon-colored tied skirt, known as a longhi, told the diplomats after the hearing.
I hope to meet you in better days, she said, smiling, before female police officers escorted her out of the court.
She was to meet privately with diplomats from Russia, Thailand and Singapore at her prison guest house later. It was not clear if the trial would be open on Thursday.
The case against Suu Kyi, accused of violating her house arrest after an uninvited American intruder swam to her lakeside home two weeks ago, has outraged the West and triggered threats of new sanctions against the regime.
Even Myanmar's usually acquiescent neighbors have issued a rare rebuke to the generals.
The Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), setting aside its mantra of non-interference, said the trial had put the honor and credibility of its troublesome member at stake.
However, Wednesday's gesture of transparency is unlikely to dampen condemnation of a trial based on what many see as trumped-up charges to keep the charismatic Suu Kyi in detention through elections in 2010.
Mark Canning, Britain's ambassador to Myanmar, said he saw little evidence that Suu Kyi was receiving a fair trial.
All the paraphernalia of the court room is there, he told BBC television. The judges, the prosecution, the defense. That's all there, but I think this is a story where the conclusion is already scripted.
One Asian diplomat said: They seem to want to improve the image of the trial by allowing us to be there.
Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) won a landslide election victory in 1990, only to be denied power by the military, which has ruled the country for more than four decades.
She has been detained for more than 13 of the past 19 years, most of them at her home in Yangon, guarded by police, her mail intercepted and visitors restricted.
Her latest house arrest will end on May 27 after six years, fuelling allegations that the regime is using the American intruder as a pretext to keep Suu Kyi in detention.
Despite the tight security at her home, authorities say John Yettaw, a 53-year-old American, sneaked inside on May 3 after using homemade flippers to swim across Inya Lake.
Suu Kyi and two female assistants who live in the house were charged last Thursday with breaking a law protecting the state from those desiring to cause subversive acts.
They have denied any wrongdoing.
Yettaw, dressed in a white shirt and khaki trousers, appeared nervous during Wednesday's hearing, which heard testimony from a police officer. He did not speak to the diplomats.
He is charged with immigration violations, trespassing into a restricted area and violating the same draconian security law.
Nyan Win, an NLD official and member of Suu Kyi's defense team, said on Tuesday the regime was rushing through the list of 22 prosecution witnesses and may wrap up the trial next week.