US senator may meet Burmese junta leader

Author: AP

Jim Webb, chairman of a Senate subcommittee on East Asia and Pacific affairs,
arrived in Naypyidaw, the south east Asian country’s remote new capital, and
would meet leader Than Shwe tomorrow, said the source who declined to be
named.

Webb is the first member of Congress to travel in an official capacity to
Myanmar in more than a decade, and has also been described as the first
senior American official ever to meet Than Shwe.

It is unclear what he aims to achieve. He arrives the same week that Suu Kyi,
a Nobel peace laureate and a symbol of the movement for democracy in
Myanmar, was sentenced to another 18 months’ house arrest for violating a
security law.

The US embassy in Myanmar has little knowledge of Webb’s plans and says all
arrangements were made by his office in Washington.

According to some reports, he may press for the release of John Yettaw, the
American who swam uninvited to Suu Kyi’s lakeside home in May. The
authorities said his two-day stay there breached the terms of her house
arrest, which led to her trial.

Yettaw himself was sentenced to seven years’ hard labor in a parallel trial on
Tuesday on three charges, including immigration offences and “swimming in a
non-swimming area.” His health is fragile and he spent several days in
hospital this month.

President Barack Obama said the conviction violated universal principles of
human rights and called for her release.

In May, Obama extended a ban on US investment in Myanmar first imposed in 1997
because of the authorities’ repression of the opposition. He has also
renewed sanctions targeting imports from Myanmar.

Before Suu Kyi’s trial ended, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton held out
the prospect of better relations with Myanmar but made that conditional on
the release of Suu Kyi and other political prisoners.

Webb’s office said on August 6 he would travel to five countries in south east
Asia on a two-week mission “to explore opportunities to advance US interests
in Burma (Myanmar) and the region.”

He is not expected to be allowed to see Suu Kyi in her Yangon home, but the
military government has invited members of political parties, including
senior members of her National League for Democracy, to Naypyidaw this
weekend.

Webb flew to Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, from Laos and will also visit
Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.

He is a former US Navy Secretary and a Vietnam War veteran who speaks
Vietnamese.

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