By Ian Swanson - 08/15/09 09:46 AM EDT
Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) has secured the release of a U.S. citizen sentenced earlier this week to years of hard labor in Burma for visiting a dissident human rights leader in that country.
A spokeswoman for the senator told CNN that Webb had secured the release of John Yettaw, an American who violated Burmese laws by swimming, uninvited, acroos a lake to visit Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi. She was sentenced to 18 months of detention earlier this week because of the visit.
Webb had "frank discussions" with the military regime about Aung San Suu Kyi and Yetta, according to Jessica Smith, his communications director.
"I think the discussions were fruitful," she said on CNN. "The engagement certainly was effective in this case, and he was able to secure the release of John Yettaw."Webb, who has long pushed for engaging with Burma, is the first member of Congress to visit the country in a decade. Smith said Webb believes all involved would benefit from deeper engagement.
The Guardian posted a statement from Webb about the developments.“I am grateful to the Myanmar [Burmese] government for honoring these requests,” Webb said. “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.”
Webb's meetings with the leaders of the reclusive regime are taking place just days after the controversial sentences of Aung San Suu Kyi and Yettaw. The sentence handed down to the Nobel Prize winner was widely seen as a move intended to limit her involvement in elections later this year.
Webb arrived in Burma on Friday, and is scheduled to continue his visit in that country until Sunday, when he will travel to Thailand to continue a tour of the region.
The first-term senator has criticized U.S. sanctions against Burma, and visited the country to 2001 to meet with business leaders, workers and leaders of the military junta. During that trip, he discussed his desire to bring Burma more productively into the world community.
This story was updated at 10:20 a.m.