August 17, 2009 / 6:35 PM / 10 years ago

U.S., U.N. welcome Myanmar's release of American

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Monday welcomed a U.S. senator’s success in winning the release of an American jailed in Myanmar and meeting with detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

American John Yettaw (C) arrives in Thailand's military airbase in Bangkok August 16, 2009. REUTERS/Sukree Sukplang

Myanmar’s military junta freed John Yettaw during Senator Jim Webb’s visit to the Southeast Asian nation last week. The American politician also met junta leader Than Shwe on Saturday before visiting Suu Kyi at a guest house.

“The President is pleased that Senator Webb has facilitated the release of American citizen John Yettaw from detention in Burma. He appreciates this decision by the Burmese government,” The White House said in a statement.

Ban “welcomes his engagement with Myanmar’s leaders as well as Daw Aung San Suu Kyi toward a peaceful, united, democratic Myanmar,” U.N. spokeswoman Marie Okabe said in a statement. “The secretary-general also welcomes the release of Mr. Yettaw on humanitarian grounds.”

Webb, a Democrat, landed in Bangkok on Sunday with Yettaw, whose swim to Suu Kyi’s home in May led authorities to extend her detention. Myanmar officials said Yettaw’s uninvited stay breached the terms of the Nobel Peace laureate’s house arrest.

Ban met with Than Shwe and the other junta generals last month in Myanmar’s new capital, Naypyidaw. The generals rejected Ban’s request to also meet with Suu Kyi, citing her trial as the reason.

The trial ended last week with the extension of Suu Kyi’s house arrest. Two days later, the U.N. Security Council voiced “serious concern” about the verdict, in a watered-down statement designed to win the consent of China and Russia.

Both the White House and U.N. statements called for the release of all political prisoners in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma.

Although Britain and other Western countries would like to see U.N. sanctions imposed on Myanmar, Western council diplomats say that China, a neighbor and trade partner of Myanmar, opposes them.

Beijing is backed by Russia, which, like China, is a permanent veto-wielding member of the Security Council.

Reporting by Louis Charbonneau at the United Nations and Patricia Zengerle in Washington; editing by Paul Simao and Todd Eastham

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