Page last updated at 13:06 GMT, Saturday, 15 August 2009 14:06 UK

US senator meets Burmese leader


Burma is the first stop of an Asian tour for the US senator

US Senator Jim Webb has held talks with Burmese military ruler Than Shwe, Burmese officials say.

He is the most senior US official to meet the Burmese leader, the Democratic senator's office said in a statement.

Mr Webb also met pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, days after she was given house arrest for 18 more months.

The senator's office said American John Yettaw - whose uninvited visit to Ms Suu Kyi's home led to her trial - would leave Burma with Mr Webb on Sunday.

It is my hope that we can take advantage of these gestures as a way to begin laying a foundation of goodwill and confidence-building in the future
Senator Jim Webb

Mr Webb had been expected to press for the release of Mr Yettaw, who was on Tuesday sentenced to seven years' hard labour by the Burmese authorities.

His office said Mr Yettaw would be officially deported on Sunday morning and that the senator would bring him out of the country on a military aircraft that was returning to Bangkok.

"I am grateful to the Myanmar government for honouring these requests," Mr Webb said in the statement.

"It is my hope that we can take advantage of these gestures as a way to begin laying a foundation of goodwill and confidence-building in the future."

The UN Security Council expressed "serious concern" following Ms Suu Kyi's conviction earlier this week, while the EU extended sanctions against Burma.

'Milder' statement

Ms Suu Kyi had earlier been taken to a state guesthouse near her home to meet Mr Webb, where the two held talks lasting about 40 minutes.

She went on trial in May after Mr Yettaw swam to her lakeside home, evading guards. She was charged with breaking the terms of her house arrest by sheltering Mr Yettaw and after many delays, was sentenced on Tuesday to three years in prison.

Gen Than Shwe salutes during Armed Forces Day - 27 March 2006

Although the sentence was commuted to 18 months' house arrest by Than Shwe, it ensures the opposition leader cannot take in planned elections next year.

Ms Suu Kyi, 64, has spent 14 of the past 20 years under house arrest.

A UN Security Council statement on Thursday expressed "serious concern" at the sentence and urged the release of all political prisoners.

Correspondents said the statement had been watered down from an original US draft, which "condemned" the verdict and demanded that Burma's military junta free Ms Suu Kyi.

The main reason for the weaker language was China - a powerful permanent member of the council, with close ties to Burma's rulers, says the BBC's Tom Lane at the UN.

Together with Russia it has blocked strongly-worded condemnations in the past, our correspondent adds.

The US, Britain and France were among countries to condemn the verdict, but Burma's neighbour China said the world should respect Burma's laws.


The EU said judges involved in Ms Suu Kyi's sentencing would now join military and government figures in having their overseas assets frozen and travel to the EU banned.

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, who is the current chairman of the Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean) told the BBC that imposing sanctions could lead to problems and that it was important to take a balanced approach to dealing with Burma.

President Barack Obama said earlier this year that the US was reviewing its policy towards Burma.

Last month, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said increased US engagement with Burma, including investment, might be possible if Ms Suu Kyi were freed. But she also warned that there were concerns over the transfer of nuclear technology from North Korea to Burma.

Mr Webb chairs the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on East Asia and Pacific affairs. He has called for more "constructive" US engagement with Burma but said in July that the trial of Ms Suu Kyi would make this difficult.

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