Oklahoma City (Mizzima) – US Senator Jim Webb is to pay his second visit to military-ruled Burma during a tour of three Asian countries that will begin on Saturday, his office said.
Webb, a strong advocate for engagement with the military regime, paid his first visit to Burma last August, making him the first US senator to visit the Southeast Asian nation in two decades.
It is unclear with whom the senator will meet in Burma.
Senator Jim Webb, chairman of the foreign relations East Asian and Pacific Affairs subcommittee, would visit Korea, Thailand and Burma from May 29 to June 6, his office said in a press release yesterday. He is also a member of the Senate armed services committee.
The Democrat senator was scheduled to hold a variety of meetings with government officials, U.S. diplomats, military officials and business leaders, the statement added.
He has been a strong advocate for increased interaction with Asian countries, saying: “As our interaction has declined, China’s influence has grown rapidly and broadly throughout Asia.”
“It is time for the United States, together with our allies and partners, to call on China to act in a responsible way that improves the stability and prosperity of the region,” he added.
Webb’s visit to Burma comes amid the ruling junta’s busy preparations for a general election later this year. The election, however, has attracted criticism worldwide, including condemnation from the United States, for failing to include the main opposition party, the National League for Democracy.
“Webb’s trip comes at a time of great unrest in the region following the North Korean torpedo attack on a South Korean vessel, violent protests in Thailand and provocations from the Burmese regime,” his office said.
It will be the second visit to Burma this month by a top US politician after US assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, Kurt Campbell’s recent trip and will follow Premier Wen Jiabao of China, Burma’s closest and most powerful ally. Wen is due to visit on June 2.
On May 10, Dr. Campbell rebuked the Burmese junta for failing to hold dialogue with opposition parties and ethnic groups and urged an inclusive and fair election. He also called for the immediate release of the estimated 2,100 political prisoners held in the country and said peace and stability would remain elusive if the polls were unfair.
Webb met NLD leader Aung Sang Suu Kyi last year and secured the release of John Yettaw, an American man sentenced to seven years in prison for secretly swimming to her house on Inya Lake, Rangoon.
Suu Kyi, who has been detained for 14 of the last 20 years, was sentenced to three years in prison with hard labour for violating her house arrest as a result of Yettaw’s intrusion, but the term was reduced to 18 months under house arrest by junta chief, Senior General Than Shwe.