Webb: New push to secure Suu Kyi’s release

Jim Webb speaks at  a press conference in Laos Thursday as part of a two-week Southeast Asia trip.
There is a new push to free Myanmar’s pro-democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi, Sen. Jim Webb told CNN’s "American Morning" Monday.

Webb spoke after a weekend visit to Myanmar, also known as Burma, in which he secured the release of an American man who was sentenced to seven years of hard labor for visiting Suu Kyi. ASEAN, a powerful economic and political bloc of Southeast Asian nations, may petition Myanmar to release Suu Kyi on the grounds of amnesty, according to Webb. “(That) would be a major step forward in resolving this situation,” the Virginia Democrat said. ASEAN — the Association of Southeast Asian Nations — has been reluctant in the past to address Suu Kyi’s detention in Myanmar, one of its 10 member nations. But it has been under increased pressure to suspend Myanmar after the country’s military junta convicted Suu Kyi last week for violating the terms of her house arrest. That conviction stemmed from a May 3 incident in which American John Yettaw swam to her house, uninvited, and stayed for two days. Webb secured Yettaw’s release, and he is currently being treated at a hospital in Bangkok. Yettaw suffers from diabetes. Some Burmese exile groups criticized Webb for traveling to the heavily-sanctioned country to secure the release of the American.

Don’t Miss
Yettaw’s actions in Myanmar ‘regrettable’

Sen. Webb first U.S. lawmaker to meet junta chief in Myanmar

“This will surely make a negative impression among the people of Burma,” said Aung Din, executive director of the Washington-based U.S. Campaign for Burma. “They will think that Americans are easy to satisfy with the dictators when they get their citizens back.” But Webb, who has expressed regret for Yettaw’s actions, stressed that his visit to Myanmar was not “specifically to obtain his release.” “I think that he may have been well-intentioned, but he hurt a lot of people including the very woman he was thinking he was going to help,” Webb told CNN. Many analysts saw Suu Kyi’s latest detention as the junta’s attempt to keep the Nobel laureate from participating in next year’s elections. 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 ever to meet with Than Shwe. He said he asked Myanmar’s leaders to consider Suu Kyi’s release because “no future elections process would have any credibility with the outside world unless she were able to participate in the political debate.” Webb’s trip was part of a new approach by the Obama administration “to find different ways of working to open up Myanmar for the benefit of the people.” Suu Kyi may agree to support lifting some economic sanctions against Myanmar’s current regime if the issue of restoring democracy is properly addressed, Webb said. Those sanctions, according to Webb, have failed.

“What they’ve done is they’ve allowed the Chinese to increase their level of investment and their level of influence in a country that is vitally important to the future security of the United States,” Webb said, referring to economic sanctions on Myanmar. “Sanctions don’t work if you have a country like China that (is) pouring billions of dollars into places like Myanmar. (The sanctions) have shut off the contact with the very people who can raise the level of consciousness among the Burmese citizens and actually assist in the evolution of the political process.”