Sunday, August 16, 2009

Than Shwe frees American -- Asean must press for Suu Kyi's release

If Gen Than Shwe of Burma conceded to Washington by releasing John Yettaw, would he show some respect for Asean by pardoning Aung San Suu Kyi?

Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Biromya said Friday that the nine other members of Asean are holding consultations on asking Burma to declare clemency for Suu Kyi as a means to help save Asean from coming under further pressure from the international community.

US Senator Jim Webb of Virginia -- chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's East Asia and Pacific Subcommittee -- flew to Burma over the weekend and successfully obtained the release of John Yettaw, who had been sentenced together with Suu Kyi for breaking the terms of her house arrest. He was flown into Bangkok with the senator in a military plan.

The senator is due to give a press conference in Bangkok tomorrow afternoon.

Yettaw and Suu Kyi were both convicted last week of breaking the terms of her house arrest. Suu Kyi, who had been detained for 14 of the last 20 years,was given 18 months additional house arrest. Yettaw, 53, of Falcon, Missouri, was sentened to seven years in jail.

During Webb's visit to Burma -- the first by a member of the US Congress in more than a decade -- the senator met with Than Shwe and a rare visit with Suu Kyi. UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon was barred from meeting her when he was there last month.

Than Shwe may let her free on the condition that she leave the country -- something Suu Kyi has rejected all along.

But now that the junta leader has shown he could accommodate an American Congressman's wish to release an American citizen, Asean leaders will have to convince Than Shwe that he has to "save Asean's face" by letting Suu Kyi -- and an estimated 2,000 political prisoners -- free.

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