Senator Jim Webb wins release of American citizen held in Burma prison

Photo from Teletext

Photo from Teletext

Earlier this year Virginia senator, Jim Webb, impressed me with his passionate commitment to prison reform – an interest he has had since 1984 when as a journalist he wrote about an American citizen imprisoned in Japan for marijuana possession.   Once again, Webb has taken an interest in an American citizen imprisoned in a foreign country and has been successful in gaining the release of John Yettaw of Falcon, MO.

Senator Webb also requested the release of Suu Kyi (for information on Kya see below).

Jim Webb is the senior Senator from Virginia.

RANGOON, Burma (AP) — An American man imprisoned in Burma for sneaking into the home of detained democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi flew out of the country Sunday after a visiting U.S. senator won his release.

John Yettaw of Falcon, Mo., arrived in Bangkok on a U.S. government plane with Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., who secured his freedom Saturday with a plea to Burma’s ruling military junta.

Webb’s visit to Burma was the first by a member of the U.S. Congress in more than a decade, and could presage a new approach by Washington toward the military government, which it has shunned.

A pale and haggard-looking Yettaw smiled as he left the small plane and flashed sign language for “I love you” to waiting reporters but did not respond to questions.

Yettaw, 53, was convicted last week of breaking the terms of Suu Kyi’s house arrest by swimming to her lakeside home in early May and staying for two days.

Webb was also allowed a rare meeting with Suu Kyi, who is tightly restricted in her house arrest.

His meeting Saturday with the junta’s chief, Senior Gen. Than Shwe, was the first time the reclusive general has met with a senior U.S. political figure.

Webb said he also asked Burma’s military rulers to release Suu Kyi, 64, a long-standing demand of the United States and much of the international community.

“I am hopeful that the relations between the United States and Burma will move forward and that the government will consider strongly” the request, Webb told reporters before leaving Burma.


Further details of the Webb visit

Webb met with Suu Kyi for nearly an hour Saturday, his office said. He 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.”

Webb is also the first American official ever to meet with Than Shwe. Webb said he requested that the country’s leadership release Suu Kyi from her 18-month house arrest.

Webb is the first member of Congress to visit Myanmar, also known as Burma, in more than a decade. Though he is not in the country on behalf of the State Department, he is there in his official capacity as a senator, and his trip may indicate a shift in America’s hard-line stance against the reclusive country.

“He has been very consistent in his view about the need for aggressive diplomacy with these kind of authoritarian regimes around the world,” Webb’s spokeswoman, Jessica Smith, told CNN from Washington.

She said Webb believes that “if we engage with Burma, it will benefit all countries involved if we speak to Burma’s leadership.”

Webb’s discussions with the country’s leaders were “very frank,” Smith said.

Suu Kyi

A Myanmar court on Tuesday convicted the 64-year-old Nobel Peace laureate of violating her house arrest by allowing an uninvited American to stay at her home. Her sentence of three years in prison with hard labor was quickly commuted to 18 months house arrest after an order from the head of the military-ruled country, Senior Gen. Than Shwe.

Suu Kyi has been in detention for 14 of the last 20 years, and the extension will remove her from the political scene next year when the junta holds its first election since 1990. Her party won in the polls then but was never allowed to take power.
Photo from Teletext

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