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Family 'ecstatic' after word Mo. man will be freed

In this photo released by the office of U.S. Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., Webb, right, meets with Myanmar's detained democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi in Yangon, Myanmar, Saturday.
In this photo released by the office of U.S. Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., Webb, right, meets with Myanmar's detained democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi in Yangon, Myanmar, Saturday.
Associated Press

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Family members of a Missouri man imprisoned in Myanmar for swimming to the home of detained Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi waited Saturday for his return to the United States, and said they were thrilled that his ordeal appeared to be over.

U.S. Sen. Jim Webb's office said Saturday morning that he had won the relase of Yettaw, 53, a Mormon who was convicted last week and sentenced to seven years in prison for the May swim. Suu Kyi, a pro-democracy leader, has been detained at her home for several years, and is not allowed to have unannounced visitors. Yettaw's visit violated that term of her house arrest.

Yettaw's wife, Betty Yettaw, said in a phone interview Saturday from her home outside Camdenton in central Missouri that she had not received any official notice that he would be returning home. But "if it's true, of course I'm extremely happy, and we're ecstatic," she said.

Webb's office said Yettaw is to be deported Sunday, when he will fly with Webb on a military plane to Bangkok. It was unclear when or how Yettaw would be returning to Missouri.

Yettaw, who lives on a military pension from serving in the Army for about a year in 1973, was in Myanmar researching a book he wanted to write about forgiveness, according to his wife. But he also testified during his trial that he swam to Suu Kyi's house in early May to deliver a warning that he had had a "vision" that she would be assassinated.

Betty Yettaw has said previously that her husband "became interested in the plight of the Karen people and the Burmese people in general, and then Aung San Suu Kyi," and had merely wanted to interview her. He arrived after the swim before dawn with cramps in both legs, according to court testimony. Suu Kyi said in a statement at trial that he told her he would be arrested if he went out in daylight, and at night, requested that he be allowed to stay overnight for health reasons.

After his capture, Yettaw spent a week before his conviction in a prison hospital for epileptic seizures. He is also said to suffer from asthma and diabetes.

The junta that governs Myanmar may have agreed to release Yettaw to quell the international criticism against Myanmar after the trial and Tuesday's verdict. A statement from Webb's office also said the senator requested that Suu Kyi be released during a meeting with junta leader Senior Gen. Than Shwe on Saturday.

A former wife, Yvonne Yettaw, said Saturday she also had not received any official confirmation, but had heard media reports of the announced release. "I was stunned," said Yvonne Yettaw, 54, of Palm Springs, Calif.

Yvonne Yettaw and John Yettaw, who have six children ranging in age from 11 to 20, divorced in 2002. John Yettaw was granted physical custody of the children, but the three youngest have been with Yvonne Yettaw in California this summer. The two older children, Carley, 20, and Brian, 17, are at the family's home in Falcon, in south-central Missouri. Another son, Clint, died in 2007 in a motorcycle accident in Missouri at age 17.

"It's been chaos after chaos after chaos," Yvonne Yettaw said. "But the children look forward to seeing their father."

Another former wife, Sharon Yettaw, who was married to John Yettaw for about seven years in the 1980s, said she had been watching the news closely Saturday from her home in San Bernardino County, Calif.

"I just hope that from this point he gets home safely. And I hope (Suu Kyi) gets freed too," she said.

Another former wife, Linda Yettaw, who lives in the Los Angeles area, said she was delighted his ordeal was ending. "I just want him to know I love him and that I'm really, really happy he's coming home," she said.

Associated Press reporter Chris Clark contributed to this report.