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16 August 2009

US senator gets jailed American out of Myanmar

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As Laos and Vietnam refused to support Thailand’s call for an Asean consensus to seek pardon for Myanmar democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar junta freed an American imprisoned in the same trial with the opposition leader, according to local and international news reports.

Thailand, as chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, has proposed that other Asean members ask the Burmese government to give a pardon to its opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the Bangkok Post reported. But two Asean members - Vietnam and Laos - oppose Thailand's move, saying Asean should not interfere in the affairs of Burma.

On Sunday, American John Yettaw, who had been sentenced to seven years of hard labor for swimming uninvited to Suu Kyi's lakeside house in Yangon, accompanied US Senator Jim Webb who flew to Bangkok after securing his release in an unprecedented meeting with Myanmar junta chief.

Senator 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.

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 pposition 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 aid 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.

Webb may have been given the green light for the meetings to mitigate the torrent of international criticism against Myanmar following her trial. In July, authorities barred UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon from meeting with Suu Kyi during a two-day visit.


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