John Yettaw, the American who had been sentenced to seven years of hard labor in Myanmar, was handed over to U.S. Embassy officials in the Southeast Asian nation on Sunday, an information ministry official said.
U.S. Sen. Jim Webb obtained Yettaw’s release a day earlier. The two are expected to fly to Bangkok, Thailand, aboard a military aircraft sometime Sunday. Yettaw, 53, a former military serviceman from Falcon, Missouri, was sentenced last week for a May 3 incident when he swam, uninvited, to the house of pro-democracy leader Aung Suu Kyi and stayed for two days. Myanmar’s government said Yettaw’s presence at Suu Kyi’s compound violated the terms of the house arrest she was under at the time. Yettaw testified in court that God had sent him to Myanmar to protect the opposition leader because he dreamed that a terrorist group would assassinate her. He was convicted of violating immigration laws, municipal laws and Suu Kyi’s house arrest terms. Suu Kyi, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, told the court during her trial that she doesn’t know Yettaw, did not know of his plans and denied any wrongdoing. She said she did not report the intrusion because she did not want Yettaw or anyone else to get in trouble.
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The court initially sentenced Suu Kyi to three years in prison for the incident. It was later commuted to a year-and-a-half of house arrest. Her two housekeepers also received the same sentence. On Saturday, Webb — who chairs the East Asia and Pacific Affairs Subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee — held separate meetings with Suu Kyi and Myanmar’s top official, junta leader Senior Gen. Than Shwe. Webb is the first member of Congress to visit Myanmar in more than a decade — and the first American official to meet with Than Shwe. In his meeting with the junta leader, Webb said he requested that Suu Kyi be released from her 18-month house arrest. “I don’t think Sen. Webb can be proud for the release of Mr. John Yettaw, while our leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who is the real victim of this conspiracy and injustices, and two women colleagues are still under detention,” said Aung Din, executive director of the Washington-based U.S. Campaign for Burma.
“This will surely make a negative impression among the people of Burma. They will think that Americans are easy to satisfy with the dictators when they get their citizens back.” Myanmar’s military junta, which has ruled the country since 1962, changed the English translation of the country’s name from Burma in 1989, but Suu Kyi’s supporters and several governments still use the older name.