Published August 13, 2009
U.S. Senator Jim Webb plans to meet with Burma's top official, Senior General Than Shwe, when he travels to the country on Friday in what would be the first-ever meeting between a U.S. official and the ruling military junta's chief, Webb's office said.
The visit follows Tuesday's conviction of democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi along with an American citizen, and the beginning of another 18-month confinement to house arrest for the Nobel Peace Prize winner. The conviction, though expected, drew sharp criticism from world leaders and human rights groups.
"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," a statement from Webb's office said.
U.S. Embassy spokesman Richard Mei said Webb, a Virginia Democrat, was to arrive Friday for a three-day visit, and will be flown straight to the new administrative capital of Naypyitaw to meet government leaders.
"It is vitally important that the United States re-engage with Southeast Asia at all levels," Webb said in a statement announcing his arrival in Laos, where he was due to hold a press briefing on Thursday.
Mei declined to comment on who Webb will meet in Naypyitaw, saying the appointments were made through the Burma Embassy in Washington.
Mei said Webb will be the first member of Congress to visit Burma in more than 10 years.
Suu Kyi had been under house arrest since 2003, but was taken to Rangoon's Insein Prison in May for trial after American citizen John Yettaw secretly swam to her house and spent two days there. Both Yettaw and Suu Kyi were found guilty of violating the terms of her earlier detention.
Asked about speculation that Yettaw, who was sentenced to seven years imprisonment, will be handed over to Webb, Mei said that the issue had "not been officially discussed."
Yettaw's lawyer Khin Maung Oo said Thursday that Yettaw would not be handed over to Webb.
"It is impossible that Mr. Yettaw will be sent back with the visiting senator," he said. "I think my client will finally be deported but not immediately."
Webb is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's East Asia and Pacific Affairs Subcommittee.
The Associated Press contributed to this report