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Asia-pacific

US Senator Webb set to meet reclusive junta leader

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2009-08-15

In a historic first, US Senator Jim Webb is scheduled to meet with Burma's reclusive military supremo Than Shwe during the Democratic senator's visit to the Southeast Asian nation later this week, according to a statement from Webb’s office.

AFP - Democratic Senator Jim Webb is due to meet Myanmar supremo Than Shwe later this week in the first-ever encounter between a senior US official and the junta strongman, Webb's office said Thursday.
  
The visit by Webb, who is close to US President Barack Obama, comes after the Than Shwe regime was assailed by international outrage for extending democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi's house arrest for another 18 months.
  
"Later this week, US Senator Jim Webb is scheduled to meet with leaders at the highest levels of the national government in Burma (Myanmar), including Senior General Than Shwe," a statement from Webb's office said.
  
"If the Shwe meeting takes place it will be the first time that a senior American official has ever met with Burma's top leader," it said, noting also that no member of Congress has visited Myanmar in over a decade.
  
The only time Than Shwe, who assumed power in 1992, has met a US official is believed to have been when William Berger, head of a US disaster assistance team, delivered a planeload of aid to Yangon after Cyclone Nargis in May 2008.
  
Webb, who arrived in Laos Thursday to kick off a two-week tour of Southeast Asia, is scheduled to visit Myanmar this weekend.
  
"It is vitally important that the United States re-engage with Southeast Asia at all levels," Webb said in another statement announcing his arrival in the Lao capital Vientiane, where he was due to hold a press briefing Thursday.
  
Also convicted along with Suu Kyi was US man John Yettaw, who triggered her latest trial with a bizarre incident in May when he swam to her lakeside house in Yangon.
  
The 54-year-old US military veteran, who is epileptic and diabetic, was sentenced to seven years of hard labour and imprisonment.
  
Obama demanded Yettaw's immediate release, along with Suu Kyi's and that of thousands of political prisoners held in Myanmar's notorious jails ahead of elections scheduled for next year.
  
Webb -- a hard-nosed Vietnam War veteran who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on East Asia and Pacific affairs -- was also to visit Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia over his two-week tour.
  
The senator, a former Republican defence official who has authored military works, was seen as a potential vice presidential pick for Obama during last year's US election campaign but was quick to rule himself out of the running.

Date created : 2009-08-13

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