US lawmaker in Myanmar for landmark meet

YANGON: US Senator Jim Webb arrived in Myanmar today for historic talks with military supremo Than Shwe, the first ever meeting between a senior American official and the junta chief, officials said.

The landmark visit comes despite the regime’s decision this week to extend the house arrest of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, prompting world outrage and

an expression of “serious concern” by the UN Security Council. Webb, a Democrat who is close to President Barack Obama, touched down in the ruling generals’ bunker-like capital Naypyidaw after flying in from Laos, Myanmar officials said.

“The Senior General will meet Jim Webb tomorrow,” one Myanmar official said on condition of anonymity, adding that Webb is scheduled to travel to the commercial hub Yangon later Saturday, the official said.

The US embassy in Yangon confirmed that Webb was due to arrive but said it had not received confirmation from the capital. Webb’s office said on Thursday that he was due to meet Than Shwe.

The reclusive Than Shwe ordered Suu Kyi to serve another 18 months of house arrest on Tuesday

after a court convicted

her and an eccentric

American man, John Yettaw, who swam to her lakeside home.

The move puts the 64-year-old Nobel peace laureate out of the picture for elections promised by the junta in 2010. Critics say the polls are a sham aimed at legitimising the regime’s grip on power.

Diplomats have played down suggestions that Webb — a hard-nosed Vietnam veteran who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on East Asia and Pacific affairs — could win an amnesty for Yettaw during his visit.

Yettaw was sentenced to seven years of hard labour and imprisonment.

But Webb’s visit could herald a change in the tough US stance towards Myanmar after the Obama administration said

earlier this year that

it would review its policy on Myanmar.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last month held out the carrot of possible investment if the junta frees Suu Kyi, although she warned that there were concerns about nuclear cooperation between North Korea and Myanmar.

In April, Webb himself said that the United

States should take a

new approach of “constructive” engagement with Myanmar with an aim of lifting sanctions.

But he said in July

that the trial of Suu

Kyi would make this task more difficult.

Thailand pushing for Suu Kyi pardon

BANGKOK: Thailand said on Friday it was asking Southeast Asian nations to back a request to Myanmar’s ruling junta leader Than Shwe to pardon pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. “We are seeking a consensus among ASEAN members to ask for a pardon for Aung San Suu Kyi,” Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya said, referring to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. “We want to see her

be pardoned first. For other political prisoners, we have demanded their release several times,” he said. The 10-nation bloc, currently chaired by Thailand, has faced frequent criticism for taking a soft line on Myanmar,

its most troublesome member. — AFP