Saturday, August 15, 2009

US Senator Meets Than Shwe, Suu Kyi

In this photo released by the office of U.S. Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., Webb, right, meets with Myanmar's detained democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi in Yangon, Myanmar, Saturday, Aug. 15, 2009. Sen. Webb's office says he has won the release of an American prisoner in Myanmar. A statement Saturday said John Yettaw will be officially deported on Sunday afternoon when he will travel with Webb to Bangkok. Yettaw was convicted Tuesday of helping Suu Kyi violate the terms of her house arrest. (AP Photo/Office of Senator Jim Webb)

The Irrawaddy News

The head of the Burmese military junta, Snr-Gen Than Shwe, met with pro-engagement American Senator Jim Webb in Naypyidaw today and allowed the senator to meet with pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Reports said that Than Shwe met with the Democratic senator in the Burmese capital on Saturday morning. No further details were released by either Burmese or US officials. Webb is scheduled to hold a press conference at Rangoon’s international airport on Sunday, according to his official Web site.

On Saturday afternoon, Webb flew from Naypyidaw to Rangoon to meet with Suu Kyi. Sources in Rangoon said Suu Kyi was taken from her lakeside residence to a government guesthouse to meet with Webb.

Khin Maung Swe, a spokesperson for Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, told The Irrawaddy that the party had been informed of the meeting between Suu Kyi and Webb, but declined to provide any further information.

He added that the party did not expect Webb’s visit to bring any big changes. “It’s too early to say if Mr. Webb’s visit will have a major impact on Burma or Washington’s Burma policy,” he said.

A journalist in Rangoon who spoke on condition of anonymity said that security has been tight on Rangoon’s University Avenue, where Suu Kyi lives, since this morning.

During his meeting with Than Shwe, Webb likely discussed next year’s planned elections, the fate of detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners, and US sanctions on Burma. Observers and diplomats said China’s growing influence in Burma was probably another topic of discussion.

At a senate hearing in July, Webb hinted that the new US administration of President Barack Obama was considering a different approach to Burma from that of his predecessor, but emphasized that Washington’s policy would continue to be based on developments in Burma.

“[W]e are in a situation right now where I think what they have recently done with Aung San Suu Kyi has dramatically hurt their ability to reach out and perhaps see a different type of treatment from the United States,” Webb said.

Burma’s state-run-newspapers reported a meeting between Webb and Burmese Prime Minister Gen Thein Sein on Friday as the front-page story on Saturday. The meeting was also attended by Foreign Minister Nyan Win, Information Minister Brig-Gen Kyaw Hsan, Minister for Culture Maj-Gen Khin Aung Myint, Science and Technology Minister U Thaung—who formerly served as Burma’s ambassador to the US—and Aung Toe, the chairman of the Commission of Drafting the State Constitution.

Webb also held a separate meeting on the military-backed 2008 constitution with Aung Toe and three other members of the constitution-drafting committee on Friday. Prior to his visit, he expressed an interest in the constitution, which was approved last year in a referendum widely dismissed as a sham.

“Assuming that Burma would honor the items that are in its proposed constitution, which move, however imperfectly, toward a multi-party systems and elections—open elections—I assume that would be supported,” Webb said in the US senate in July.

Webb probably also expressed concern about China’s growing clout in Burma when he met with Than Shwe, according to diplomatic sources.

A critic of US sanctions on Burma, Webb has previously noted that “As the United States continues its attempt to isolate Burma due to the human rights policies of its military regime, China’s influence has grown exponentially.”

Note: Photo comes from article: Yettaw's Family `ecstatic' after word Mo. man will be freed

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