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How an evangelist helped thaw Burma

Reuters: disturbed evangelist John Yettaw was crucial US-Burma icebreaker
John yettaw aung san suu kyiEnlarge
John Yettaw arrives at a military airport in Bangkok on August 16, 2009. A US man sentenced to seven years' hard labour for swimming to the home of democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi flew out of army-ruled Myanmar with an US senator who secured his release. Yettaw, 54, was earlier handed over to US embassy officials at Yangon's notorious Insein prison, after U.S. politician Jim Webb held landmark talks with the reclusive chief of Myanmar's military regime, Than Shwe. (PORNCHAI KITTIWONGSAKUL/AFP/Getty Images)

Reuters has published an insightful chronology of the rapid thaw between the US and Burma, an army-controlled backwater described by American diplomats as an "outpost of tyranny" not too long ago.

The report is significant in its recasting of John Yettaw, a mentally disturbed Mormon zealot.

Yettaw is best remembered as the man who swam to pro-democracy icon Aung Sun Suu Kyi's house, offered her a Book of Mormon and promised to smuggle her away in a Burqa. He was freed after a visit from U.S. Senator Jim Webb.

Like most journalists at the time, I mostly presented the case as an embarrassment.

But the case appears to have been a spark, more crucial than most suspect, that lit up Burma's secretly held plans to engage America.

That, at least, is the contention of the report. When Webb showed up to negotiate Yettaw's release, he was given a surprise audience with the country's then-supreme ruler, Than Shwe.

Though Webb evaded questions about the meeting at the time, it appears the powwow went swimmingly with the senator and the dictator really yukking it up.

According to Reuters:

"Than Shwe and others appeared to understand Senator Webb's use of humorous quotes (e.g., President Truman's comment that, "in politics, if you are looking for a loyal friend, get a dog,")" said one diplomatic cable released by Wikileaks.

Global Post's own special report from inside secretive nation, "Burma Rebooted" is here.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatches/globalpost-blogs/the-rice-bowl/did-evangelist-kook-help-thaw-burma