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August 18, 09

NEWS / U.S. Welcomes Release of American Citizen from Burmese Prison

By Stephen Kaufman
Staff Writer

Washington —The Obama administration is grateful to U.S. Senator Jim Webb for his efforts in gaining the release of American John Yettaw from prison in Burma, but the State Department says Yettaw’s release will not affect its ongoing review of U.S. policy toward Burma.

Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs P.J. Crowley told reporters August 17 that the United States remains “very concerned” over the continued house arrest of National League for Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, as well as the more than 2,100 political prisoners who are detained by Burma’s military rulers.

“We continue to look for signs that the Burmese government is prepared to embark on a meaningful dialogue with Aung San Suu Kyi along with the rest of the democratic opposition,” Crowley said.

The country’s military rulers need to have a dialogue with “a full range of ethnic minority leaders in Burma and move toward a peaceful transition to genuine democracy and national reconciliation,” he said.

The Obama administration will be looking for signs that Burma is “fundamentally changing its approach and its policies,” Crowley said, adding, “I don’t think that Mr. Yettaw’s release is an indication of that.”

The White House issued a statement August 17 saying President Obama is pleased with Webb’s talks in Burma that led to the release.

Yettaw had been sentenced to seven years in prison, including four years of hard labor, on the grounds that he had violated the terms of Suu Kyi’s house arrest by swimming across a lake to get to her home. Suu Kyi, who has been under arrest for 14 of the past 20 years, was given an additional 18-month sentence. U.S. officials condemned both decisions and said they were politically motivated to prevent Suu Kyi from competing in elections that are scheduled for 2010.

Obama said he appreciates the decision by the Burmese authorities to release Yettaw, and he urged the country, “in this spirit, to release all the political prisoners it is holding in detention or in house arrest, including Aung San Suu Kyi.”

Webb (Democrat from Virginia), who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on East Asia, became the first U.S. leader to meet with Burma’s head of state, Senior General Than Shwe, during his August 14–15 visit to the country. He was also the first U.S. official in several years who was allowed to meet with Suu Kyi.

According to an August 15 statement issued by Webb’s office, the senator said he is grateful to the Burmese government for releasing Yettaw and allowing him to meet with Suu Kyi. “It is my hope that we can take advantage of these gestures as a way to begin laying a foundation of good will and confidence-building in the future,” he said.

Webb said he spent nearly an hour with the detained democracy activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner, and described the meeting as “an opportunity for me to convey my deep respect to Aung San Suu Kyi for the sacrifices she has made on behalf of democracy around the world.”

Assistant Secretary Crowley said Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will meet with Webb to get his impressions of his meetings with both General Shwe and Suu Kyi. “That will inform what we think is both feasible and advisable in terms of our future policy with respect to Burma,” he said.


Tags: secretary of state,


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