x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Myanmar to release jailed American

The military junta agrees to release John Yettaw who was jailed for visiting the home of democracy icon Suu Kyi.

US Senator Jim Webb met Myanmar's military ruler Than Shwe and the democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi today after securing the release of a US citizen jailed for visiting Suu Kyi's house in May. The jailed US citizen, John Yettaw, will be deported tomorrow and will be allowed to leave with Mr Webb, a Myanmar official confirmed. "Yettaw will be deported and leave with Webb," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. Mr Webb, a Democrat with close links to US President Barack Obama, became the first US official to hold talks with the reclusive Than Shwe, encountering the regime's supremo in his bunker-like capital, Naypyidaw, officials said.

Mr Webb then flew to Yangon to meet the Nobel peace laureate Suu Kyi at a government guesthouse near her home - her first meeting with a foreign official since her house arrest was extended by 18 months earlier this week. She was driven to the meeting from her crumbling mansion in a convoy comprising her car and several police vehicles, witnesses said. She left the guesthouse about 45 minutes later. Mr Webb's office later issued a statement in Washington saying he had secured an agreement from the junta to release John Yettaw, who was jailed for seven years this week over an incident in which he swam to Suu Kyi's lakeside home. "I am grateful to the Myanmar government," Mr Webb was quoted in the statement. "It is my hope that we can take advantage of these gestures as a way to begin laying a foundation of goodwill and confidence-building in the future."

"Yettaw will be officially deported on Sunday morning," the statement said, adding that "Senator Webb will bring him out of the country on a military aircraft that is returning to Bangkok on Sunday afternoon." Mr Webb had also urged Myanmar's military regime to free Suu Kyi, who has spent most of the last two decades under house arrest, the statement said. Officials in Myanmar, previously known as Burma, said earlier Saturday that Yettaw was likely to be deported, but only after Mr Webb had left the country, an apparent result from Mr Webb's one-hour talks with Than Shwe. The Myanmar regime sparked international outrage when a court in the army-ruled nation convicted Yettaw and Suu Kyi over the May incident in which the he swam uninvited to her home. "Mr Yettaw is likely to be deported after the visit by the US Senator. They will not leave together," a Myanmar official said on condition of anonymity after the meeting. No reasons were immediately available from Myanmar officials for the apparent discrepancy over the timing of Yettaw's release and departure. According to earlier reports, Mr Webb was not due to meet Yettaw, a diabetic and epileptic former military veteran who is being held at Yangon's notorious Insein Prison. Yettaw was hospitalised earlier this month after suffering a series of fits. *AFP