Accessibility links

US Senator Obtains Release of  American Jailed in Burma

U.S. Senator Jim Webb met with Burma's opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, Saturday, shortly after holding talks with the country's top military leader.

During the visit, Webb obtained the release of U.S. citizen John Yettaw who was sentenced to seven years in prison for swimming to Aung San Suu Kyi's home.

Webb's office issued a statement Saturday saying the senator will bring Yettaw out of the country on a military aircraft that is flying to Bangkok, Thailand on Sunday.

Webb is the first U.S. Congress member to have traveled to Burma in an official capacity in more than a decade. He is the first U.S. official to have met with Burma's leader, General Than Shwe. His visit comes days after a military court in Burma extended Aung San Suu Kyi's detention by 18 months for alleged violations of security laws.

Both the White House and the State Department say Webb is not carrying any specific message from U.S. President Barack Obama.

Webb, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on East Asia and Pacific Affairs, has expressed support for lifting sanctions on Burma.

Critics have said his visit confers legitimacy to Burma's military junta. But supporters say the dialogue helps pressure the regime to release political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi. She has spent 14 of the past 20 years in some form of detention.

Debbie Stothard of the Thailand-based rights group Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma told VOA it is unclear whether Webb's visit will have any real effect. But she said the release of political prisoners and cessation of hostilities against ethnic minorities would make a difference.

Webb arrived in Burma Friday after a visit to Laos as part of his two-week, five-nation tour. The senator is traveling through Asia as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs. He flew to Rangoon for the meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi Saturday after talking with General Than Shwe in Burma's administrative capital, Naypyidaw. Details of either meeting were not released.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.