US Senator Jim Webb arrives in Myanmar's military capital
Aug 14, 2009, 6:48 GMT
Yangon - US Senator Jim Webb arrived in Myanmar's military capital Naypyitaw Friday for high-level talks with the country's ruling junta that are expected to include a meeting with Senior General Than Shwe, government sources confirmed.
Webb, a Democrat from Virginia who is chairman of the East Asia and Pacific Affairs Subcommittee, flew direct to Naypyitaw, 350 kilometres north of Yangon, in a chartered plane from Vientiane, Laos.
He is scheduled to meet with junta chief Than Shwe at 11 am (0430 GMT) Saturday , a foreign ministry source said.
Webb's trip to Myanmar, part of a five-nation tour of South-East Asia that will also include stopovers in Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, comes days after Than Shwe placed opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest for the next 18 months, commuting a court sentence of three years in prison.
If the meeting with Than Shwe takes place, Webb will be the first senior American official to ever meet the reclusive junta chief who has been head of Myanmar's military regime since 1992.
He is also the first US senator to visit Myanmar, deemed a pariah state among Western democracies, for about a decade.
Webb is a proponent of change in US foreign policy towards Asia, including Myanmar, which has been the target of economic sanctions by Washington since 1990, after the regime rejected the outcome of a general election won by the National League for Democracy (NLD), headed by democracy icon Suu Kyi.
'It is vitally important that the United States re-engage with South-East Asia at all levels,' Webb said in a message posted on his website after his visit to Laos, whose communist leadership sided with the Vietnamese communists against the US military in the Vietnam War (1959-75).
'Our relations with Laos have never been fully repaired since the end of the Vietnam War more than thirty years ago. I look forward to working with Lao officials in order to bring our two countries closer together economically, culturally, and diplomatically,' Webb said.
While in Naypyitaw, Webb is also scheduled to meet with representatives of the NLD, who were invited up to the capital on Friday.
Webb is expected to seek the release of US national John William Yettaw, 54, who was on Tuesday sentenced to seven years in prison with labour for swimming to the house-cum-prison of Suu Kyi on May 3 on a mission to warn her of an assassination attempt he had envisioned.
Myanmar pro-democracy groups have questioned the timing of Webb's visit and cautioned him not to become a tool of the ruling regime.
'We are concerned that the military regime will manipulate and exploit your visit and propagandize that you endorse the trial of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the imprisonment of over 2,100 political prisoners,' said the joint statement sent to the US embassy in Yangon by the All Burma Monks Alliance, 88 Generation Students and All Burma Federation of Student Unions.