jim webb, than shwe, jim webb than shwe
Myanmar junta chief Senior Gen. Than Shwe, left, shakes hands with U.S. Democratic Sen. Jim
Webb at a military compound Saturday, Aug. 15, 2009, in Naypyitaw, Myanmar.

US Meets With Junta Leader, Aung San Suu Kyi in Myanmar

August 17, 2009 05:30 PM
by Liz Colville
Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia has successfully negotiated the release of John Yettaw, the Missouri man who swam to the house of jailed pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi in May.

Webb Meets With Shwe, Suu Kyi

Virginia Sen. Jim Webb, a Democrat and Vietnam veteran, traveled to Myanmar this past weekend and held unlikely meetings with both the leader of the country, Senior General Than Shwe, and Aung San Suu Kyi, the National League for Democracy leader, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Webb, a former naval secretary, negotiated the release of Missouri resident John Yettaw, who swam across a lake to Suu Kyi's house in May and was subsequently sentenced to seven years in prison. Yettaw traveled on a military plane back to the U.S. on Aug. 16.

Webb's meetings came in the wake of President Obama's renewal of "wide-ranging sanctions against Myanmar on trade, investment and natural resources," Charles McDermid writes in the Times. It also comes as Suu Kyi, who was serving a house arrest sentence at the time of Yettaw's uninvited arrival, is charged with violating the terms of the house arrest and sentenced to another 18 months.

McDermid adds that it is rare for Shwe to hold meetings with people other than "friends and allies," and that last month, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was unable to secure a meeting with Suu Kyi.

"They want to know what other options they have," author and historian Thant Myint-U, speaking of Myanmar's junta, told McDermid. For now, Myanmar is a "client state of China's" but an otherwise isolated country that has been widely criticized by the international community for human rights violations.

Key Player: Sen. Jim Webb (1946 -)

Jim Webb was born in St. Joseph, Mo., and graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1968. He served in the Marines and was a rifle platoon and company commander in the Vietnam War, a position that earned him the Navy Cross, the Silver Star Medal, two Bronze Star Medals and two Purple Hearts, according to his Senate biography.

He has also held the position of counsel to the House Committee on Veterans Affairs from 1977 to 1981 and in 1987, became "the first Naval Academy graduate in history to serve in the military and then become Secretary of the Navy."

Webb is also a published author of fiction and nonfiction and an award-winning journalist.

Background: American swims to Suu Kyi's house

John Yettaw, 53, swam across a lake in May to visit with Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of Myanmar's National League for Democracy party. The event resulted in his arrest and a trial that held Suu Kyi accountable.

Suu Kyi was under house arrest at the time and under the terms of that sentencing, was not permitted any contact with the outside world, CBC reported in July. She has been jailed or under house arrest for nearly 14 of the past 19 years.

Yettaw was sentenced to seven years in prison, including four years of hard labor, according to the Los Angeles Times. Suu Kyi was found guilty of violating her house arrest by harboring Yettaw, who was uninvited, and was sentenced to three years in prison on Aug. 11.

But the sentence was immediately reduced to 18 months of house arrest by Myanmar's junta leader, Senior General Than Shwe, Deutsche Welle reported.

Next: Recent Developments in Myanmar and the Plight of Suu Kyi >

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