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Archive for Sunday, August 16, 2009

U.S. senator meets Suu Kyi, wins American’s release

August 16, 2009

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— An American imprisoned in a trial with Myanmar’s opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi looked forward to being deported from the military-ruled country today after a U.S. senator secured his release in an unprecedented meeting with the junta chief.

Virginia Sen. Jim Webb was also allowed to hold talks with Suu Kyi — the first foreign official permitted to see the Nobel laureate since she was sentenced to 18 more months of house arrest on Tuesday.

The impending deportation indicates “good relations between the two countries and hope (that) these will grow,” Yettaw’s lawyer Khin Maoung Oo said. Webb echoed the sentiment.

“It is my hope that we can take advantage of these gestures as a way to begin laying a foundation of goodwill and confidence-building in the future,” Webb said in a statement from his Washington office.

Webb said he would accompany American John Yettaw on a military flight to Bangkok today.

Yettaw, who had been sentenced to seven years of hard labor for swimming uninvited to Suu Kyi’s lakeside house in Yangon, was being held at Insein prison, notorious for torture of political prisoners and ordinary criminals. Yettaw’s lawyer said his client, who suffers from epileptic seizures and other ailments, had been well treated.

Suu Kyi has been detained for 14 of the past 20 years, and a global groundswell of international pressure to release the 64-year-old opposition leader has kept the impoverished military-ruled country under sanctions in recent years.

While Washington has traditionally been Myanmar’s strongest critic, applying political and economic sanctions against the junta, President Barack Obama’s new ambassador for East Asia, Kurt Campbell, recently said the administration is interested in easing its policy of isolation.

The regime has shown no sign it will release Suu Kyi before next year’s general elections, which critics say will perpetuate the military’s decades-old rule, but Webb’s visit appeared to show the junta is sensitive to international censure.

“If the Americans can get the generals to see that their country’s interest is reflected in taking interest in reconciliation, releasing Aun Sun Kyi and holding free and fair elections, that would be very helpful,” said John Sawyers, Britain’s ambassador to the United Nations.

“It’s important to have some measure of engagement as well as real pressure on the regime,” he told BBC Radio 4.

Suu Kyi was driven from her residence to a nearby government guest house in Yangon for her 40-minute meeting with Webb. She was later driven back to her rundown, lakeside home.

Webb described his talk with the democracy icon as “an opportunity ... to convey my deep respect to Aung San Suu Kyi for the sacrifices she has made on behalf of democracy around the world.”

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