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Around the web: August 25th to August 30th

Some links that have caught my eye of late:

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Misc.

U.S. Senator Jim Webb: “We Can’t Afford to Ignore Myanmar”

Just wanted to point out that U.S. Senator Jim Webb has a New York Times op-ed about his recent visit to Myanmar. Worth a read. Webb discusses Myanmar’s isolation, China’s influence, and the importance of U.S. engagement.

My previous post about Webb’s visit to Bangkok is here. And here’s my post about Aung San Suu Kyi’s guilty verdict.

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Webb and Yettaw arrive in Bangkok

US Senator Jim Webb gave a press conference here in Bangkok yesterday after the completion of Webb’s visit to Myanmar. During the trip, the Virgina Democrat met with the recently-convicted Aung San Suu Kyi, as well as the country’s top general, Than Shwe. Webb also secured the release of American John Yettaw, who was sentenced to seven years of hard labor for swimming across a lake, uninvited, to Suu Kyi’s house in May.

In speaking to the media about the trip, Webb stressed his commitment to engaging Myanmar over time. Webb said that the sanctions against Myanmar have increased the country’s isolation and driven it into the arms of China.

Webb also said that Yettaw’s actions were “regrettable” and that the Missouri native is “not a well man.” However, Webb said that Yettaw was not a “mean spirited human being.” Webb said that Yettaw was undergoing a medical review here in Bangkok, but declined to say what will come next for Yettaw.

Here are some news stories:

  • NY Times: “American Held in Myanmar Is Released”
  • AP: “Myanmar release of US man could thaw relations”
  • WSJ: “U.S. Prisoner Leaves Myanmar: Release, Secured by Sen. Jim Webb, Fuels Debate Over Role of Private Missions”
  • Bloomberg: “Webb Wins Release of U.S. Activist, Urges Freedom for Suu Kyi”
  • AFP: “Suu Kyi US ‘guest’ given medical treatment: embassy”
  • AP: “American Gets Medical Tests After Myanmar Jailing
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Aung San Suu Kyi found guilty in Myanmar

The verdict was widely expected, but it was officially announced — after a delay on July 31 — early this afternoon, local time.

Myanmar’s imprisoned pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi was pronounced guilty of violating the terms of her detention by allegedly harboring an American well-wisher, John Yettaw, who swam across a lake, uninvited, to her house in May.

Suu Kyi has already spent nearly 14 of the last 20 years under house arrest.

Today’s verdict: She will serve an additional 18 months of detention. This is, technically, a reduced term, as she was initially sentenced to three years of hard labor. (Five minutes after the verdict was announced, Myanmar’s Home Minister issued the reduced sentence.)

Critics will say that this apparent show of clemency amounts to a shrewd political move: Myanmar’s government, which has faced unwanted scrutiny since Yettaw’s strange activities in May, can now argue that they’ve treated Suu Kyi with leniency. And an additional year and a half of detention means that she will be unable to influence elections — dismissed by many as a sham designed to put a civilian face on a military dictatorship — scheduled for 2010.

Of course, activists note that the 64-year-old Nobel Peace Prize laureate should never have been arrested in the first place. And even if her initial detention were legitimate, surely the guards who were in charge of securing her house should be blamed for Yettaw’s intrusion.

Today I visited the Myanmar embassy here in Bangkok; it was quiet — business as usual. And I spoke with a Burmese activist who works with a group pushing for democracy in Burma. He said the trial verdict is a “slap in the face of the international community,” noting that many parties, over the years, have tried to engage with the government, but all efforts have failed. I also spoke with a representative of Amnesty International; his group has called the verdict “shameful,” and AI says the only resolution is the “immediate and unconditional release” of Suu Kyi.

Here are some additional news reports:

  • AP: “Myanmar’s Suu Kyi returns to house arrest”
  • Reuters: Myanmar’s Suu Kyi ordered back into house detention
  • NY Times: “Pro-Democracy Leader in Myanmar Is Convicted”
  • WSJ: “Suu Kyi Sentenced to 18 Months House Arrest” (And don’t miss their interactive timeline about Suu Kyi’s life.)
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Misc.

Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi, and John Yettaw

Some news stories about Aung San Suu Kyi and John Yettaw:

Reuters: “Critics hit Myanmar on “trumped-up” Suu Kyi charges

YANGON (Reuters) – Western critics slammed Myanmar’s military rulers for pressing “trumped-up” new charges against detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, but the move drew only mild rebuke from Asian neighbors.

The United States and Britain — the loudest critics of the generals who have ruled the former Burma since 1962 — condemned the Nobel Peace laureate’s forthcoming trial on charges she broke the terms of her house arrest after an American intruder stayed in her home.

Human rights groups called on Myanmar’s neighbors China and India — which have strong economic ties to the resource-rich country — and the 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) to demand Suu Kyi’s immediate release.

“Burma’s military authorities have taken advantage of an intruder’s bizarre stunt to throw Aung San Suu Kyi into one of Burma’s most notorious and squalid jails on trumped-up charges,” said Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch.

BBC (with images that are said to be of Yettaw and what appear to be improvised flippers): “Profile: Aung San Suu Kyi ‘intruder’

The US man who allegedly broke into the home of detained Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been named by Burma as John Yettaw, 53.

Burmese state media said he was a psychology student living in the US state of Missouri.

They say Mr Yettaw, whose surname has also been spelled Yeattaw, entered the country on a tourist visa on 2 May.

His detention led to the arrest of Ms Suu Kyi, who is now awaiting trial in Burma’s Insein prison.

CNN: “Neighbors describe man at center of Myanmar political scandal

Tucked away in the woods of central Missouri, obscured by tall trees and broken-down cars, is the mobile home of the U.S. citizen being detained in Myanmar.

Journalists have been flocking to John Yettaw’s modest residence in the unincorporated community of Falcon for insight into the man who allegedly swam across a lake and sneaked into the home of Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi while she was under house arrest.

Yettaw was charged Thursday in Myanmar on two criminal counts: entering the country illegally and staying at a resident’s home without government permission, according to a spokesman for Suu Kyi’s political party.

AP: “Clinton: Myanmar should release opposition leader

WASHINGTON (AP) — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is urging Myanmar to immediately release pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi (ahng sahn soo chee).

Clinton told reporters at the State Department on Thursday that she was deeply troubled by Myanmar’s “baseless charge” against the Nobel Peace laureate. She says the government is looking for a “pretext” to place further unjust restrictions on Suu Kyi (soo chee).