Sunday, August 16, 2009

US senator to leave Burma with convicted American: statement

(SMH) -US Senator Jim Webb will fly out of Burma on Sunday with an American convicted to seven years imprisonment after securing his release from the military regime, Webb's office said in a statement Saturday.

"I am grateful to the Burmese government for honouring these requests," Webb said in the statement.

"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," he said.

Webb, a Democrat who is close to US President Barack Obama, became the first US official to hold talks with junta leader Than Shwe and also held talks with detained democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi.

Webb said that the junta agreed to free US national John Yettaw, who was convicted along with Aung San Suu Kyi after the American swam uninvited to the Nobel laureate's lakeside home.

"Yettaw will be officially deported on Sunday morning," Webb's office said in the statement.

"Senator Webb will bring him out of the country on a military aircraft that is returning to Bangkok on Sunday afternoon," it said.

Webb said he also urged the military regime to free Aung San Suu Kyi, who has spent most of the last two decades under house arrest.

Webb described the meeting as "an opportunity for me to convey my deep respect to Aung San Suu Kyi for the sacrifices she has made on behalf of democracy around the world."

Officials in Burma had earlier said that Yettaw would likely be deported soon after Webb's departure.

Yettaw, a diabetic and epileptic former military veteran, is being held at Yangon's notorious Insein Prison. He was hospitalised earlier this month after suffering a series of fits.

Webb, a Vietnam veteran and former journalist who has reported from across Asia, is a longtime advocate of taking a new approach with Burma.

He has clashed with Burmese exile groups by calling for an eventual end of US and European sanctions on the regime, saying that they hurt the people without bringing any results.

Burmese advocacy groups had earlier warned that the junta could use Webb's visit to "endorse" its treatment of Suu Kyi and the more than 2,100 other political prisoners in the country's jails.

But the White House and State Department have both welcomed the trip, even though it is officially being made in a private capacity by Webb, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on East Asia and Pacific affairs.

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