U.S. senator meets with Suu Kyi in Myanmar

Sen. Jim Webb speaks at  a press conference in Laos Thursday as part of a two-week Southeast Asia trip.
A U.S. senator met Saturday in Myanmar with detained pro-democracy leader Aung Sang Suu Kyi, an eyewitness said.

The meeting with Jim Webb, a Democrat from Virginia, lasted about 40 minutes, an eyewitness said. It was not known what they discussed. Webb is the first member of Congress to visit Myanmar in more than a decade. Though he is not in the country on behalf of the State Department, his trip may indicate a shift in America’s hardline stance against the reclusive country. Webb is chairman of the East Asia and Pacific Affairs Subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Before meeting Suu Kyi on Saturday, Web met with Myanmar’s top official, junta leader Senior General Than Shwe. Webb’s visit — part of a two-week, five-nation tour of Asia — comes just days after the conviction of Nobel laureate Suu Kyi. She was sentenced on Tuesday to 18 months of house arrest stemming from a May incident in which an uninvited American man swam two miles to her home, violating the terms of her house arrest. The man, John William Yettaw, was sentenced to seven years of hard labor. Lawyers for both said they would appeal. A Myanmar court initially sentenced Suu Kyi to three years in prison for violating the house arrest she had been under, but Than Shwe commuted it to the year and a half of house arrest. Yettaw, a 53-year-old former military serviceman from Falcon, Missouri, stayed in Suu Kyi’s home for two days. He 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.

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The United Nations Security Council on Thursday expressed “serious concern” over Suu Kyi’s conviction and its political impact, and urged the government to “create the necessary conditions for a genuine dialogue” with the pro-democracy leader. Also Thursday, the European Union adopted “a new set of targeted measures” against Myanmar in reaction to the verdict against Suu Kyi. Under the measures, members of the Myanmar judiciary responsible for Suu Kyi’s conviction will be added to a list of people and entities subject to a travel ban and assets freeze. Suu Kyi has spent 14 of the past 20 years in one form of confinement or another — most recently under house arrest in a crumbling lakeside home. The country’s regime rarely allows her visitors, and foreigners are not allowed overnight stays in local households without government permission. Suu Kyi, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, has said she doesn’t know Yettaw, did not know of his plans and denied any wrongdoing. She told the court she did not report the intrusion because she did not want Yettaw or anyone else to get in trouble.