US senator talks with Myanmar’s junta chief, might meet Suu Kyi

August 15th, 2009 - 3:55 pm ICT by IANS  

Yangon, Aug 15 (DPA) US Senator Jim Webb, on a mission to “re-engage” Washington in Southeast Asia, met Myanmar’s military supremo Saturday and was scheduled to meet detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi Sunday, officials said.
“Jim Webb will meet Daw Aung San Suu Kyi Sunday just before his departure,” said a government official who requested anonymity.

Webb, a Democrat from Virginia who is chairman of the US Senate’s East Asia and Pacific Affairs Subcommittee, arrived in Myanmar’s military capital, Naypyitaw, Friday when he held talks with Prime Minister Than Sein and government-backed civil organisations.

On Saturday, Webb met junta chief Senior General Than Shwe, making him the first US politician to have a personal chat with the military supremo since he assumed power in 1992.

The nature of their talks was not disclosed, but Webb was expected to give a press conference in Yangon Sunday prior to his departure for Bangkok.

Webb is a proponent of change in US foreign policy toward Myanmar, a pariah state among Western democracies that has been condemned for its poor human rights record and has been subject to economic sanctions for decades.

The senator also met representatives of Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy opposition party Saturday morning.

Webb’s trip to Myanmar - part of a five-nation tour of South-East Asia that is also to include stopovers in Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam - comes days after Than Shwe placed pro-democracy icon Suu Kyi under house arrest for the next 18 months, commuting a court sentence of three years in prison.

“It is vitally important that the United States re-engage with South-East Asia at all levels,” Webb wrote on his website after a visit to Laos, whose communist leadership sided with the Vietnamese communists against the US military in the 1960s and ’70s.

In Myanmar, Webb was expected to seek the release of US national John William Yettaw, 54, who was sentenced Tuesday with Suu Kyi to seven years in prison with hard labour for swimming to the house-cum-prison of Suu Kyi May 3 on a mission to warn her of an assassination attempt he had envisioned.

The junta said the uninvited guest violated the terms of a previous house detention of Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize winner who has spent 14 of the past 20 years under detention.

Myanmar pro-democracy groups have questioned the timing of Webb’s visit and cautioned him not to become a tool of the ruling regime.

“We are concerned that the military regime will manipulate and exploit your visit and propagandise that you endorse the trial of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the imprisonment of over 2,100 political prisoners,” said a joint statement sent to the US embassy in Yangon by the All Burma Monks Alliance, 88 Generation Students and All Burma Federation of Student Unions.

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