Myanmar's Suu Kyi to hear final verdicts in junta trial

Myanmar's State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi attends the joint news conference of the Japan-Mekong Summit Meeting at the Akasaka Palace State Guest House in Tokyo, Japan on 9 October 2018Reuters

A Myanmar junta court could hand down the final verdicts in an 18-month trial of Aung San Suu Kyi next week, closing the latest chapter in the military's decades-long battle with the democracy figurehead.

The Nobel laureate, 77, has already been found guilty on 14 charges ranging from corruption to illegally importing walkie-talkies and breaching the official secrets act.

Since her trial began she has been seen only once -- in grainy state media photos from a bare courtroom -- and has been reliant on lawyers to relay messages to the world.

Many in Myanmar's democracy struggle she has dominated for decades have abandoned her core principle of non-violence, with "People's Defence Forces" clashing regularly with the military across the country.

The nation has been in turmoil since generals seized power last year and deposed Suu Kyi's civilian government.

Final arguments for her trial on five remaining corruption charges are set for Monday and verdicts are expected shortly after.

The court could add up to 75 years in prison to the 26 she has already been sentenced to, concluding a closed-door trial that rights groups say is a sham.

It is "unlikely" the junta will press any more charges, said Richard Horsey of the International Crisis Group.

The military wants the focus next year to be on celebrations for the 75th anniversary of independence from Britain, "and on elections it is likely to hold mid-year", he told AFP.

But after the polls, any new military regime "could perhaps approach Suu Kyi and try to use such negotiations to try to divide the opposition", Horsey added.

Analyst Soe Myint Aung said there is "always a possibility of an unexpected pardon and release" for Suu Kyi once her trial is finished.

"The military regime definitely sees a role for Suu Kyi in reducing societal tensions and stopping the armed resistance," he said.

Whether the still-popular ex-leader would play ball in exchange for a pardon or freedom is a matter of intense speculation.

"There is nothing impossible in politics," junta spokesman Zaw Min Tun told AFP in July when asked if the military would consider talks with Suu Kyi to find a way out of the crisis unleashed by its coup.

'Sham' elections

Suu Kyi is currently imprisoned in a compound in the capital Naypyidaw, close to the courthouse where her trial is being held, and has been deprived of her household staff and pet dog Taichido.

"I seriously doubt that the junta would release her from prison, at least until the 2023 election is over," said Htwe Htwe Thein, an associate professor at Curtin University in Australia.

Horsey said it was also "unlikely" the generals would allow her to return to her family's colonial-era lakeside mansion in Yangon, where she spent around 15 years under house arrest after winning elections in 1990.

During that time she regularly gave speeches to crowds on the other side of her garden wall, becoming a global democracy icon for her peaceful resistance to authoritarian military rule.

The United States has said any elections held by the current junta would be a "sham".

Russia -- a major ally and arms supplier -- has said it supports the military's plan to hold polls next year.

Analysts and diplomatic sources say neighbours China, India and Thailand may also give their blessing.

But many of Myanmar's myriad political parties could boycott the polls rather than compete on the junta's terms and risk retaliation from anti-coup fighters.