U.S. senator in Myanmar for meetings

Aug. 14, 2009 at 10:42 AM
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YANGON, Myanmar, Aug. 14 (UPI) -- U.S. Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., arrived in Myanmar Friday to meet with military junta leader Senior Gen. Than Shwe during the weekend, officials said.

Webb, the highest ranking U.S. official to meet with Shwe in more than a decade, was not carrying a message from the Obama administration although his aides said he was briefed by the U.S. State Department, The New York Times reported.

U.S. officials said the visit provided an opportunity to open communications between the United States and Myanmar, formerly known as Burma. Webb included the visit to the reclusive country as part of a two-week, five-country mission to Asia.

He is the chairman of a Foreign Relations Committee panel dealing with East Asian affairs.

"It is important for the Burmese leadership to hear of the strong views of American political leaders about the path it should take toward democracy, good governance, and genuine national reconciliation," said Mike Hammer, a National Security Council spokesman.

Webb's visit comes the same week a Myanmar court convicted pro-democracy leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi of violating the terms of her house arrest by permitting a U.S. intruder to spend two nights at her home in May. Originally sentenced to three years in prison, her sentence was commuted to 18 months of house arrest. She has spent 14 of the past 20 years under house arrest.

The intruder, John Yettaw, 53, of Falcon, Mo., was sentenced to seven years of hard labor.

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