Myanmar: deposed leader Suu Kyi appears in court as fighting escalates

The military junta that seized power in February claims Ms Suu Kyi is guilty of election fraud and plotted to stay in power illegally

(FILES) In this file photo taken on January 17, 2020 Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi posing for pictures during a welcoming ceremony for Chineses President Xi Jinping (not pictured) at the Presidential Palace in Naypyidaw. Myanmar's ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi made first in-person court appearance on May 24, 2021 since coup according to her lawyer.   / AFP / STR
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Myanmar's deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi appeared in person at a court hearing on Monday for the first time since her government was overthrown by the military in a February 1 coup, her lawyer told Reuters.

Ms Suu Kyi looked in good health and held a face-to-face meeting with her legal team for about 30 minutes before the hearing, lawyer Thae Maung Maung said.

Ms Suu Kyi "wished people good health" in her meeting with her lawyers and also made a reference to her National League for Democracy (NLD) party that could be dissolved soon.

"Our party grew out of the people so it will exist as long as people support it", one of her lawyers, Khin Maung Zaw, quoted Ms Suu Kyi as saying.

Ms Suu Kyi, 75, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate for her long struggle to build democracy in the country, is among more than 4,000 people detained since the coup.

She faces charges that range from illegally possessing walkie-talkie radios to violating a state secrets law.

Myanmar's ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi, former president Win Myint and doctor Myo Aung appear at a court in Naypyitaw, Myanmar May 24, 2021, in this still image taken from video. MRTV/REUTERS TV/via REUTERS THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES. MYANMAR OUT.   THIS PICTURE WAS PROCESSED BY REUTERS TO ENHANCE QUALITY. AN UNPROCESSED VERSION HAS BEEN PROVIDED SEPARATELY.
Myanmar's ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi, former president Win Myint and doctor Myo Aung appear at a court in Naypyitaw, Myanmar. MRTV/Reuters

Signs of armed rebellion 

Ms Suu Kyi's court appearance follows an uptick in fighting as a national protest movement has merged with simmering insurgencies across the country, led by marginalised ethnic groups.

A harsh government crackdown has led to at least 815 deaths, according to a local monitoring group.

The violence has pushed some in the anti-junta movement to form a so-called "People's Defence Force" (PDF) in their own townships – made up of civilians who fight back against security forces with homemade weapons.

There were clashes in eastern Myanmar over the weekend, particularly in Kayah state's Demoso town, and in neighbouring Shan state.

People's Defence Force member Thet Wai – not his real name – said at least 20 police officers died Sunday and his side seized a police station in Moebyel town, Shan state, east of the capital Naypyidaw.

The police station was burnt down and rebel fighters also took four security force members into custody, local media reported.

"I thought today is a day of conquest," Thet Wai, 29, told AFP.

"But I am also worried because we have seen air strikes and tanks today. They have much better weapons than us."

He said the Myanmar military had launched helicopter air strikes in the evening at Demoso, a town in Kayah state about 40 kilometres south.

Another civilian fighter at Demoso said at least 13 Myanmar soldiers had been killed on Sunday, while four of his men were wounded.

"We intended to seize their police station, but they used air strikes and we could not stop their reinforcement trucks getting into the town," he said. "We had to withdraw our troops from fighting."

The fighting continued through Sunday night, according to a senior leader of the Karenni National Progressive Party – an ethnic armed group with a stronghold in Kayah state.

He confirmed that the military was using tanks, helicopters and mortar attacks in Demoso and Loikaw, the capital of Kayah state.

Meanwhile, military chief Min Aun Hlaing, who removed civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi from power in the coup, gave a two-hour interview to Hong Kong's Phoenix Television, with the full programme yet to air.

In a snippet released on Sunday, he offered reassurances to Chinese investors after a spate of arson attacks at factories in the commercial capital Yangon.

"Our citizens don't hate China," he said. "It happened for political reasons."