Archive for the ‘Myanmar’ Category

DPRK “Centrifuge Rods” seized from Singapore ship

Tuesday, March 19th, 2013

UPDATE 4 (2013-3-27): Myanmar leader denies the materials were bound for his country. According to Yonhap:

Ko Ko Hlaing, chief political advisor to Myanmar President Thein Sein, explicitly denied the allegations, reaffirming his government has no intention of building nuclear weapons.

“We have no great interest to broker such items like aluminium alloy rods,” Ko Ko Hlaing told Yonhap News Agency in an interview in Seoul on the sidelines of a forum on Myanmar’s reform and its implications on North Korea.

“We understand that the result of clandestine arms trafficking is quite treacherous,” he said. “So the reported destination may be elsewhere and the real destination will be in another position. So we can confirm that the real destination is not Myanmar.”

Mynamar had been suspected of pursuing nuclear cooperation with North Korea during decades of its military junta rule that ended in 2011.


Ko Ko Hlaing, a former army officer, said Myanmar has no interest in expanding military ties with other nations, including North Korea.

“With the new government, we have opened to the international communities and also we have achieved a very encouraging peace process,” he said.

“So, we are trying to reduce our defense expenditure and focus our resources on economic and social development rather than army and military development,” he said. “There is no potential to expand military cooperation with North Korea or any other countries.”

UPDATE 3 (2013-3-19): The Japan Times press follows up on the aluminum rods:

Japan has seized aluminium alloy rods that can be used to make nuclear centrifuges from a Singapore-flagged ship found to be carrying cargo from North Korea, the government said Monday.

The five rods were discovered on the ship during its call at Tokyo port last August and were confirmed to be aluminium alloy through tests conducted over the past six months, said Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga.

“The aluminium alloy is extremely strong and can be used in centrifuges, which are products related to nuclear development,” Suga said at a regular news briefing.

The rods were being stored at a private warehouse and the government on Monday ordered the firm to hand them over.

The items are the first to be confiscated under a special law passed in 2010 that allows Tokyo to inspect North Korea-related ships suspected of carrying materials that can be used in nuclear and missile programs.

The ship was reportedly on its way to Myanmar when it arrived in Tokyo via the Chinese port of Dalian. Suga confirmed the ship arrived via Dalian but said its cargo was bound for a “third country.”

UPDATE 2 (2012-11-26): Sen. Lugar has written a letter to the Burmese government regarding the shipment.  Read more here.

UPDATE 1 (2012-11-26): More information at the Wall Street Journal.

ORIGINAL POST (2012-11-26): According to the Choson Ilbo:

The Japanese government confiscated what appeared to be North Korean aluminum alloy bars from a Singaporean cargo ship at the end of August, the Asahi Shimbun reported Saturday. They were apparently bound for Burma and could have been used in centrifuges for uranium enrichment.

The Wan Hai 313 belonging to a Taiwanese shipping company docked in Tokyo Port. The paper said authorities confiscated 50 metal pipes and 15 high-specification aluminum alloy bars marked “DPRK” for North Korea, “at least some of them offering the high strength needed in centrifuges for a nuclear weapons program.”

Prior to U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to Burma on Nov. 19, the Burmese government pledged to sever military ties with North Korea and open up for nuclear inspection. North Korea makes hundreds of millions of dollars a year by exporting armaments.

The cargo was initially on a different ship in Dalian, China on July 27 and moved to the Wan Hai 313 in Shekou, China on Aug. 9. It was to reach Burma via Malaysia on Aug 15, but the ship entered Tokyo Port on Aug. 22 at the request of the U.S. government.

The aluminum alloy bars were exported by a company based in Dalian, which said it did so at the request of another company. The newspaper wrote, “Authorities concluded that the shipment originated in North Korea because the bars were found to be inscribed ‘DPRK,’ although investigators were unable to confirm the origin from cargo documents or from the ship’s crew, the sources said.”

Read the full story here:
N.Korean Aluminum Shipment to Burma Foiled
Choson Ilbo


Myanmar promises halt to DPRK weapons purchases

Tuesday, May 15th, 2012

According to the AP (via Washington Post):

Myanmar’s president has confirmed that his country bought weapons from North Korea during the past 20 years and assured his South Korean counterpart that it will no longer do so.

In a meeting with visiting South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, Myanmar President Thein Sein said his country never had nuclear cooperation with North Korea but did have deals for conventional weapons, Lee’s presidential Blue House said in an announcement Tuesday.

Thein Sein told Lee that Myanmar will no longer buy weapons from North Korea, honoring a U.N. ban, South Korean presidential official Kim Tae-hyo told reporters traveling with Lee, according to Blue House officials in Seoul.

Lee is on an official visit to Myanmar, the first by a South Korean president since North Korean commandos staged a bloody 1983 attack on visiting South Korean dignitaries.

Myanmar cut off diplomatic relations with North Korea after the attack, but restored them in 2007 as it sought allies in the face of international sanctions over its human rights record and failure to install a democratic government. Myanmar also began buying weapons from North Korea, and was suspected of obtaining nuclear weapons technology as well.

Myanmar is taking steps to emerge from international isolation after decades of military rule ended last year. Those changes were highlighted Tuesday when Lee met opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who was held for years under house arrest but is now a member of Parliament.

Suu Kyi said after the 45-minute meeting that South Korea and Myanmar have much in common in having had to “take the hard road to democratic leadership.”

Lee, speaking through an interpreter, said he and Suu Kyi had agreed that “democracy, human rights and freedom must never be sacrificed because of development.”

He said he had praised Thein Sein’s contribution to democratization when he met the Myanmar president on Monday.

He also said he told Thein Sein that he hoped his government “will refrain from any activities” with North Korea that could be considered in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions. He described this as a formal request.

A U.N. resolution bars countries from obtaining all but small arms and light weapons from North Korea.

Lee on Tuesday made a brief visit to the site of the 1983 bombing, Martyr’s Mausoleum, a monument to Suu Kyi’s father, Myanmar independence hero Gen. Aung San. The attack left 21 dead, 17 of them South Korean, but failed to kill its target, then-President Chun Doo-hwan, who arrived late and was not harmed.

A statement from Lee’s office said he also agreed to expand South Korean financial assistance to Myanmar.

It said South Korea agreed to help Myanmar develop human resources, build a think tank and invite Myanmar students to South Korea in an effort to share its successful experience in economic development.

Previous posts involving Myanmar here. Recent highlights include the M/V Light Saga and articles by Bertil Linter.

Read the full story here:
South Korea says Myanmar has promised to stop buying arms from North Korea
AP via Washington Post


DPRK seeking Myanmar rice deal

Wednesday, August 10th, 2011

According to Reuters:

North Korean trade officials visited Myanmar this week to discuss a possible deal to import Burmese rice to ease major food shortages at home, a government official said on Wednesday.

A meeting was held on Tuesday in the country’s biggest city, Yangon, but the terms of the agreement and how North Korea planned to pay for the rice were not known, the official told Reuters, requesting anonymity.

A North Korea-flagged cargo ship named Tumangang has been docked in the port city since Monday. Witnesses and a Reuters photographer said the vessel appeared empty and no cargo was seen being loaded or unloaded.

Myanmar was once the world’s biggest rice exporter and has shipped 450,000 tonnes of the grain so far this year, up from 440,000 tonnes for the whole of 2010. It exported 1.1 million tonnes in 2009, mostly to markets in Africa and the Middle East.

The Burmese official said the North Koreans who visited Yangon on Tuesday dealt directly with the military-owned Myanma Economic Holding Ltd (MEHL), one of the country’s biggest firms. MEHL enjoys a monopoly of many of the country’s most lucrative import and export produce.

A senior member of from the Myanmar Chambers of Federation of Commerce and Industry said it was likely North Korea would try to import more than just rice, noting that it previously bought Burmese rubber.

Ties between the two reclusive countries were restored in 2007 after a 24-year freeze that followed the failed assassination attempt by North Korea agents on then South Korean President Chun Doo-hwan during a visit to Myanmar.

The revived ties have worried the United States, which believes Myanmar’s military has sought to develop its own nuclear weapons technology using North Korean expertise.

The DPRK recently engaged Cambodia for a barter food deal.

Here is a compendium of stories related to the DPRK’s alleged food shortage this year.

Read the full story here:
North Korea seeking rice deal with Myanmar
Aung Hla Tun


DPRK-Myanmar shipping

Thursday, March 3rd, 2011

Bertil Linter, who is probably the most prolific author when it comes to illicit DPRK/Myanmar relations, has published an interesting piece in the Asia Times on cargo shipping between the two countries. The whole piece is well worth reading.

The only comment I have on the article is in regards to his economic reasoning for why trade between the two countries makes sense:

All this seems to confirm what diplomatic observers have long suspected: that Myanmar and North Korea, two countries with limited access to bank and other international financial trade facilities, are engaged in barter trade. Myanmar’s ruling generals want more weapons but often don’t have the foreign funds handy to pay for them – or at least they don’t want such transactions to show up in their bank records. North Korea, meanwhile, is starved for food and likewise lacks the finances to pay for imports.

The DPRK does appear to be suffering a shortage of food, but the government does have the funds to pay for food imports–it just prefers to spend those funds in other ways.  Below is a chart of the DPRK’s estimated trade balance from 2000-2008 published by the Congressional Research Service:

As you can see from the bottom line of the table, the DPRK has been running a substantial trade deficit (as a % of its total trade) for nearly the last decade.  This trade deficit must be paid for with hard currency inflows of one kind or another (“aid”, investment, illicit exports). Where these funds are coming from and to whom specifically within the DPRK they are going is a mystery to me, but we do know they are importing (as a group) much more than they are exporting.

Below is the article in the Asia Times:

With the Middle East and North Africa in turmoil, North Korea risks losing some of its oldest and most trusted customers for military hardware. Pyongyang has over the years sold missiles and missile technology to Egypt, Libya, Yemen, the United Arab Emirates, Syria and Iran, representing an important source of export earnings for the reclusive regime. The growing uncertainty among those trade partners could explain why North Korea is now cementing ties with a client much closer to home: military-run Myanmar.

In April 2007, North Korea and Myanmar resumed diplomatic relations. Those ties were after North Korean agents planted a bomb in the then capital of Yangon in October 1983, killing 18 high-ranking South Korean officials who were on a visit to the country. Only days after the restoration of diplomatic ties, a North Korean freighter, the MV Kang Nam I, docked at Thilawa port, 30 kilometers south of Yangon.

Officials claimed at the time that the ship docked to seek shelter from a storm. However, two local reporters working for a Japanese news agency were turned back and briefly detained when they went to the port to investigate, indicating that there could have been other, more secret reasons for the Kang Nam I’s arrival.

The same ship was put on global radar in June 2009 when it was pursued by the USS John S McCain and then reversed course. It was believed that it was on its way back to Myanmar with more unspecified cargo. Military observers tied the Kang Nam 1 incidents to the arrival of another North Korean ship, MV Bong Hoafan, at a Myanmar port in November 2006 before the resumption of diplomatic relations. Curiously, it was also reported to have been “forced” to seek shelter at a Myanmar port because of “adverse weather conditions”.

An Asia Times Online investigation has found that those were not isolated incidents. Shipping records from Myanmar show that North Korean ships have been docking regularly at Thilawa and Yangon ports for almost a decade. Even the ill-fated Kang Nam 1 had docked in Myanmar long before the 2007 and 2009 incidents. The ship made its first voyage to Myanmar in February 2002, carrying what was declared as “general cargo,” according to the shipping records.

North Korean shipments are almost invariably specified as “general goods” and sometimes “concrete”, but both in and outgoing cargo is usually handled by Myanmar’s Ministry of Heavy Industry 2, which supervises the country’s defense industries, the armed forces’ Directorate of Procurement, and the military’s own holding company, the Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings (UMEH).

When the MV Bochon, another North Korean ship, arrived at Thilawa in October 2002, the Myanmar military’s high command sent a document marked “top secret” to the port authorities, requesting them to clear the entire docking area for “security reasons”. They were also advised, according to the shipping records, that some “important cargo” would be offloaded within 36 hours.

When the MV Chong Gen approached Thilawa on April 12, 2010, it asked for permission to fly a Myanmar flag instead of its North Korean one, according to the shipping records. The captain also requested a Myanmar SMC card (smart media card) for a mobile phone, along with coastal charts. These were odd requests for a ship that was officially carrying 2,900 tons of cement and 2,105 tons of “general goods” from the North Korean port of Nampo.

Bizzare barter
Indeed, the requests made by North Korean ships traveling to Myanmar have often been outright bizarre. MV Du Man Gang appears to be one of the most regular North Korean visitors at Thilawa. On one of its many trips to Myanmar, in July 2009 it asked for 150 crates of Myanmar brandy. In March 2010, when another North Korean ship, the MV Kan Baek San, arrived in Myanmar, the North Korean ambassador asked for an unspecified quantity of Myanmar vodka to be sent to the ship, according to the shipping records.

The involvement of North Korean diplomats in these shipments is otherwise more convoluted. In September 2009, the MV Sam Il Po docked at a smaller terminal in Yangon and both the North Korean ambassador Kim Sok Chol and defense attach้ Kim Kwang Chol were present to inspect the cargo along with Lt Col Thein Toe from the Myanmar military. The unspecified cargo was received by UMEH, which in return supplied 1,500 tons of rice which was taken back to North Korea.

That was not the only incident when North Korean freighters returned with Myanmar rice. The MV So Hung arrived in November 2008 with 295 tons of material for the Ministry of Defense and left with 500 tons of rice. When the MV Du Man Gang docked in July 2009 it left with not only brandy but also 8,000 tons of rice. In June 2010, the MV An San arrived with 7,022 tons of what was alleged to be “concrete” and left in July with 7,000 tons of rice.

All this seems to confirm what diplomatic observers have long suspected: that Myanmar and North Korea, two countries with limited access to bank and other international financial trade facilities, are engaged in barter trade. Myanmar’s ruling generals want more weapons but often don’t have the foreign funds handy to pay for them – or at least they don’t want such transactions to show up in their bank records. North Korea, meanwhile, is starved for food and likewise lacks the finances to pay for imports.

When money is involved in North Korea-Myanmar trade, transactions are always done in cash and thus untraceable. Like all other ships, North Korean ones have to pay port fees in Myanmar. The MV Du Man Gang, for instance, asked to pay US$30,994 in cash rather than make a bank transfer. Other ships have made similar requests which has led to speculation about the kind of currency the North Koreans, notorious for counterfeiting US dollars, may be using.

Large quantities of counterfeit US notes have recently shown up in areas around Myanmar. In July and August 2009, a customer tried to change U$10,000 in fake notes at the State Bank of India’s main office in Imphal, Manipur. The fake bills were all of the US$100 denomination and of excellent quality, according to sources. It was the first such incident in Manipur. Although it is not clear whether the bogus notes were printed in North Korea, Imphal is located just over 100 kilometers from Moreh, an Indian town opposite Myanmar’s Tamu where a virtually unregulated border trade is booming.

Trade between North Korea and Myanmar is also apparently being done through front companies. In June 2010, the North Korean freighter MV Ryu Gong arrived with 12,838 tons of what was also described as “cement”. While the shipment was handled by the Ministry of Heavy Industry 2, the stated recipient was a little-known company known as Shwe Me, or “black gold” in Myanmar.

Port documents show that the company has nearly a million US dollars in assets but what it actually intended to do with all that cement is unclear. Just as puzzling is the involvement of Singapore-based shipping companies, which handle most of the cargo’s logistics and operate under innocuous sounding names including words like “maritime” and “services”. One of the companies has a distinct Korean name but is actually based in Singapore.

Port records point to a brisk trade between North Korea and Myanmar, all of which is handled by Myanmar’s military rather than civilian-owned private companies. In August last year, then prime minister and now president Thein Sein visited Pyongyang. According to the official Korea Central News Agency, he said that “the government of Myanmar will continue to strive for strengthening and development of the friendly and cooperative relations between the two countries.”

With those intentions publicly well-stated, Myanmar may well be on its way in overtaking Egypt, Libya and other traditional military trading partners in the Middle East and North Africa as North Korea’s main market for its military hardware.

Read the full story here:
Fog lifts on Myanmar-North Korea barter
Asia Times
Bertil Linter


DPRK Wikileaks story index

Monday, November 29th, 2010

Below I am indexing media coverage of Wikileaks stories involving the DPRK:

2011-10-7: Jordanian bank tied to illicit weapons trade.

2011-9-13: As ties between the DPRK and Myanmar continue to grow, it is becoming more difficult for defectors to transit to South Korea.

2011-9-11: The Guangdong Development Bank, a mainland lender partly owned by the U.S. bank Citigroup, had banking ties with a North Korean arms dealer in 2009, according to a cable sent by the U.S. Consulate General in Hong Kong in July 2009, The South China Morning Post reported Saturday, quoting information provided by the Wikileaks.

2011-9-8: Hyundai Group Chairwoman Hyun Jeong-eun said Kim Jong-il believes the 2004 train station explosion in Ryongchon assassination attempt.

2011-9-6: U.S. prepared to intercept N. Korean missile: cable

2011-9-5: North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il expressed distrust of his country’s major economic prop China during a 2009 meeting with a visiting South Korean businesswoman, according to a US diplomatic cable.

2011-9-5: Myanmar, North Korea traded rice for arms: US cable

2011-9-3: Sudan negotiating purchase of missiles from North Korea

2011-9-3: US State Department urged China not to sell steel to the DPRK.

2011-8-3: Cambodian government worked with US and South Korea to quietly process North Korean defectors

2011-6-1: US tried to get Canada to finance oil donations to DPRK.

2011-4-11: China and US held DPRK intelligence talks.

2011-1-18: Did Iran pay the DPRK through a South Kroean branch?  The bank says no.

2011-1-6: U.S. Ambassador Feels Heat from WikiLeaks

2011-1-5: Chinese criticize DPRK currency reform.

2011-1-4: Kim Jong-il told a visiting South Korean businesswoman in 2009 that he had ordered the removal of a missile launch scene fromthe Ariarang Mass games because “Americans did not like it.”

2011-1-4: Former Chinese ambassador to Seoul, said today’s North Korea was similar to China during the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s and 70s and dealing with officials there required that he “mentally reset his personal clock by thirty years.”

2010-12-19: WikiLeaks cable: Winston Peters condemns N Korea missile tests

2010-12-9: DPRK-Myanmar nuclear cooperation: here, here, and here.

2010-12-11: DPRK-US family reunions are extortion (Guardian)

2010-12-5: Nothing new in NK leaks (Andrei Lankov)

2010-12-3: Top-Level Defectors from N.Korea Identified (Choson Ilbo)

2010-12-3: N.Korea ‘Fattens Up’ People for Family Reunions (Choson Ilbo)

2010-12-2: North Korean diplomat: Six-party talks are dead (Foreign Policy)

2010-12-2: North Korean’s Earning $1 Per Month!

2010-12-1: WikiLeaks: Mongolia passed North Korea message to U.S. (CNN)  Brookings also published information on the Mongolia-DPRK relationship.

2010-12-1: Singapore disapproves (Straits Times)

2010-12-1: China Blocks Wikileaks (Sky News)

2010-11-30: Cheong Wa Dae denies reports of considering N. Korean regime change (Yonhap)

2010-11-30: What WikiLeaks Cables Reveal About North Korea (The Atlantic)

2010-11-29: North Korea Keeps the World Guessing (New York Times)

2010-11-28: Is there an Iran-NK missile link?  Russia says no. Experts question the idea.


Myanmar election monitored by DPRK diplos

Monday, November 8th, 2010


Acording to Foreign Policy Magazine:

It’s not strictly accurate to say there was no international observation of Sunday’s Burmese election:

The newsreader said Myanmarese had voted “freely and happily,” noting the election had been witnessed by foreign diplomats, including some from North Korea, Vietnam and China, as well as the “Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Rangoon.”

Compared to those three countries, all of which have elections in which only the ruling Communist party participates, Burma, which at least has multiple military-backed parties disagreeing on small points of policy, may actually be the most democratic. Perhaps they were ensuring that international standards for rigging and suppression were met.

Additional information
1. I have actually visited all the countries mentioned in this article: the DPRK, China, Myanmar and Vietnam.  All fantastic trips, and I recommend you visit each of these countries.  Each country is unique and well worth the trip.  You will meet some fantastic people and gain memories that last a lifetime.

2. Several years ago a Myanmar military delegation visited the DPRK.  I mapped out the locations they visited on Google Earth.  You can see them here and here.

3. Thank you FP.


Myanmar-DPRK collaboration

Monday, September 27th, 2010

There is an interesting article in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists:

Article Highlights
1. The idea that North Korea and Myanmar are collaborating on a nuclear weapons programs represents only one possible scenario among several that deserve closer examination.

2. Myanmar’s goal might be to improve its missile program or trade in illicit technology rather than build nuclear weapons.

3. Myanmar’s receipt of illegally-exported or questionable dual-use items should cause the international community to reexamine export controls and policies specific to trade with the Southeast Asian country.

Article Text:

Is Myanmar developing nuclear weapons, perhaps with the help of North Korea? That worrisome possibility, prompted by Myanmar’s receipt of dual-use technology via an illegal North Korean procurement network, has garnered considerable speculation. Compelling evidence amassed in reports published this year by the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), Jane’s Intelligence Review, and Al Jazeera indicates that, as the ISIS report put it, “There remain sound reasons to suspect that the military regime in Burma [Myanmar] might be pursuing a long-term strategy to make nuclear weapons.”1

The possible existence of such a program cannot and should not be discounted, but it is far from the only explanation that can account for Myanmar’s unusual imports. The dual-use technology sent to Myanmar — including a cylindrical grinder and magnetometer — are considerably beyond the country’s current technical capabilities, according to the DVB report. Such sophisticated devices, which could be used to produce nuclear- or missile-related parts, may point to a well-planned, long-term nuclear weapons program, perhaps assisted by North Korea.

However, alternate explanations also warrant consideration to better understand the nature of DPRK-Myanmar trade in such technologies. Plausible alternative scenarios include the use of Myanmar as a transshipment hub for items ultimately destined for North Korea, an evolving conventional missile program, procurement errors or other planning missteps, or some combination of these possibilities.

Myanmar as a transshipment hub. In late 2009, the Yokohama District Court in Japan found the president of Toko Boeki (a small Tokyo-based trading company) guilty of coordinating illegal WMD-related exports to Myanmar.2 Investigators determined that Toko Boeki had acquired cylindrical grinders and a magnetometer at the behest of New East International Company, a North Korean front company based in Hong Kong.3 Although New East International directed Toko Boeki to deliver the equipment to Myanmar, it is possible that the devices were not intended to remain there; Myanmar may have been a transfer point before the goods were shipped to another location — perhaps even North Korea.

Indeed, Myanmar has distinct advantages to North Korean procurement networks that want to circumvent sanctions and illegally divert dual-use equipment to Pyongyang. (See Editor’s Note.) Although it is also subject to sanctions, Myanmar is not as isolated as North Korea, and legitimate shipments originating from Japan, for example, can provide suitable cover for WMD-related deliveries.

In addition, Myanmar’s flourishing illegal trade networks — including drug and human trafficking — represent a familiarity with the kind of knowledge required to covertly transship deliveries to countries with more advanced WMD programs (such as North Korea). The rampant corruption associated with the military regime further enables illicit trade.

The revival of diplomatic and military relationships between Myanmar’s ruling junta and Pyongyang is another reason to consider whether North Korea, and not Myanmar, may have been the final destination for the dual-use equipment.4 Chartered or diplomatic air transport, necessary to ferry officials between capitals, is less susceptible to interdiction, offering an ideal conduit for the transfer of some types of dual-use equipment from Myanmar to North Korea. A UN panel of experts on Resolution 1874 (which strengthened sanctions on North Korea after its second nuclear test) highlighted such a scenario in a May 2010 report PDF, suggesting that Pyongyang may turn to illicit air cargo shipments as a preferred mode of transport for its illegal trade.

A conventional missile program. Myanmar may be an ideal transshipment hub, but reports from ISIS and DVB indicate that dual-use machine tools from Japan and Europe are not simply being stored in Myanmar, but also used there. This could indicate that the devices may actually be intended for use in Myanmar’s indigenous missile program.

Although Myanmar’s overall technological development appears limited in comparison with North Korea, the majority of the questionable dual-use items received by Myanmar may truly be for its own missile development effort. Acquisition of conventionally armed short- and medium-range ballistic missiles would provide the junta with a significant strategic advantage over regional and domestic rivals, and short-range missiles could be useful to fight insurgent groups that challenge the junta’s authority.5

Further, Myanmar’s defense industry already produces artillery and mobile rocket launchers, and the country reportedly has spent more than a decade improving its missile production capabilities.6 This practical experience could facilitate Myanmar’s eventual creation of larger missiles, such as Scarabs or early Scud derivatives. Myanmar cannot yet produce these missiles, but the equipment identified in the Toko Boeki case and in the DVB report could be used to help it develop more advanced missile designs.

Alternative scenarios. It is also possible that, after some of the questionable dual-use equipment had already been received, a North Korea-Myanmar proliferation relationship fell into disarray due to the enormous complexity that plagues all WMD programs. Payment disputes (similar to those PDF that held up Myanmar’s negotiations with Russia for a 10 megawatt research reactor) could be one cause.7 Myanmar’s acquisition of equipment beyond its technical capabilities could also be explained by a procurement error or an overestimation of indigenous know-how, as the DVB report acknowledges. In 2002, Myanmar expressed interest in buying a mini-submarine from Pyongyang, according to Jane’s, but abandoned the idea due in part to its lack of expertise.8

The transfer of such advanced equipment could also be an example of aggressive sales of unsuitable technology to a naïve junta, similar to Geoffrey Forden’s suggestion that North Korea has been selling subpar missile technology to states in the Middle East. It is also plausible that a core group of scientists has the ear of the junta — as well as its funding — and may have over-promised deliverables. These scientists might include U Thaung, the pro-nuclear energy minister of science and technology, and Ko Ko Oo, who is director general of the Department of Atomic Energy and former director of the Department of Technical and Vocational Education (DTVE). The two departments shared the same address, phone number, and fax number until Myanmar’s capital was moved to Naypidyaw, and the DTVE is an end-user of some of the questionable dual-use equipment that Myanmar has acquired, according to ISIS.9

Another possible scenario is that Myanmar could be “warehousing” devices for North Korea under a barter agreement that allows Myanmar to train personnel on the dual-use equipment (and thereby gain valuable hands-on experience with the devices) before it is ultimately moved to North Korea. It is possible that Myanmar may even be viewed as an offshore production hub for transfer of items to North Korea or other interested parties. Sanctions make it nearly impossible for Pyongyang to acquire controlled, technically advanced equipment that requires installation and maintenance by foreign technicians; North Korea and Myanmar may have therefore collaborated to purchase the equipment, install it in Myanmar, and use the machines to produce advanced missile or nuclear parts that could then be more easily routed via air cargo to North Korea (or elsewhere).

Conclusion. The possibility that Myanmar is pursuing a nuclear weapons program is just one of many potential explanations for its importation of technologically advanced dual-use items. The alarming prospect of a nuclear-armed Myanmar cannot be ignored, but neither should it prevent the assessment of other feasible scenarios. More research is needed to determine precisely why Myanmar received questionable dual-use items and to discover their final destination, if Myanmar is a transshipment point. Export control regimes should take note of the potential for diversion of dual-use items through Myanmar, and to protect regional stability, governments in Asia should reexamine their trade policies toward the Southeast Asian country.

Read the full article here:
North Korea and Myanmar: A match for nuclear proliferation?
Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
Catherine Boyle, Melissa Hanham, Robert Shaw


DPRK Air Defense Command System and KPA Unit 681

Monday, August 30th, 2010

A few weeks ago I posted images of a secret Myanmar delegation visit to the DPRK. I was unsure the location of the “Model Command Post” (Command Control System and National Air Defense Command System – PLUTO – 4S), however an anonymous reader located a facility that is consistent with the picture taken by the Myanmar delegation:


The facility is located at 39° 3’0.86″N, 125°45’51.57″E between the Pyongyang television tower and the May Day Stadium.  Satellite imagery reveals the facility is relatively new.  As of October 2005, construction on the building had not begun.

Another reader also located the position of KPA unit 681.   According to KCNA:

(Feb 11, 2009) General Secretary Kim Jong Il inspected Unit No. 681 under the KPA Artillery Command and watched its firing exercise.

He was greeted on the spot by Col. General Ri Jong Bu, KPA Artillery commander, and other general officers and commanding officers of the unit.

He acquainted himself with the unit’s performance of duty. Then he mounted an observation platform where he was briefed on the plan for the exercise by the artillery commander and watched it.

The one-match-for-a-hundred artillerymen’s exercise clearly showed the resolute determination of the servicemen to crush the aggressors at a single blow when they dare intrude into the DPRK even 0.001mm and their merciless striking capability.

After watching the exercise conducted by the brave servicemen firmly armed with the ever-victorious Juche-based war methods, he expressed great satisfaction over the fact that all the servicemen are fully prepared politically and ideologically and in military technique to beat back any enemy’s surprise invasion in time and defend the socialist homeland like an impregnable fortress.

He highly estimated their successful exercise and set forth important tasks which would serve as guidelines for further developing the KPA into invincible revolutionary armed forces.

The KPA, a successor to the brilliant traditions of the anti-Japanese war, has grown not only to be an army strong in ideology as it regards the spirit of devotedly defending the leader, the spirit of becoming human bullets and bombs as unshakable faith but to be powerful revolutionary armed forces equipped with modern offensive and defensive means enough to wipe out the enemies at a single blow no matter from which part of the earth they come to invade the DPRK, he said, adding: The socialist homeland is impregnable and its cause of building a great prosperous powerful nation is firmly guaranteed as its defence line is guarded by this invincible army, which has grown strong in the protracted and arduous struggle.

He met the servicemen who took part in the exercise and warmly encouraged them, before having a photo session with them.

He was accompanied by KPA Vice Marshal Kim Yong Chun, minister of the People’s Armed Forces of the NDC of the DPRK, KPA General Ri Yong Ho, chief of the KPA General Staff, KPA General Kim Jong Gak, first vice-director of the KPA General Political Bureau, and KPA Generals Hyon Chol Hae, Kim Myong Guk and Ri Myong Su and other commanding officers of the army and Kim Ki Nam, secretary of the WPK Central Committee, and Jang Song Thaek, Pak Nam Gi and Kim Yang Gon, department directors of the C.C., the WPK, and other senior officials of the society.

By comparing satellite imagery with images captured from the ground, it appears that the unit is based near the Wonsan AFB runway:

Or maybe they just want us to think it is there!

Anyway, a big thanks to those readers for their time.

I can’t say enough about the benefits of crowd sourcing.  This is how we located the DPRK’s Reconnaissance Bureau some time ago.


DPRK embassy in Myanmar seize books about KJI

Friday, July 30th, 2010

According to Reuters Canada:

North Korean diplomats in Myanmar have confiscated hundreds of copies of a locally published biography on the Stalinist state’s reclusive leader, Kim Jong-il, the book’s author said Friday.

Prominent Burmese writer Hein Latt, 62, said two senior embassy officials visited his home and took away the remaining 300 copies of the book, which they said was “false and inaccurate” and could endanger ties between the two countries.

“I handed over these books just because I don’t want to take the trouble to sort out whatever consequences will appear,” Hein Latt told Reuters, adding he had not received any complaints from the authorities in military-ruled Myanmar.

There was no immediate explanation as to why diplomats were acting to confiscate books in a foreign country.

North Korea and Myanmar have developed a close diplomatic relationship, causing concern among Asian and Western countries fearful the two are cooperating on issues related to nuclear weapons technology.

North Korea’s Foreign Minister, Pak Ui-chun, is currently in Myanmar on a four-day visit.

Hein Latt, who has authored about 25 biographies, including books on U.S. President Barack Obama, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping, said about 700 copies of his book had been sold since it was launched two months ago.

He said the biography, entitled “Kim Jong-Il: The Dear Leader of North Korea,” had been approved by the Press Scrutiny Department of the Myanmar’s Ministry of Information. It was written in the Burmese language.

The embassy officials said it contained false information because it made references to other texts published in North America about Kim, son of North Korea’s late founder, Kim Il-sung, the country’s “eternal” president.

An interview with the author is here.

Read the full story here:
North Korean diplomats seize books on Kim in Myanmar
Reuters Canada


Myanmar military delegation’s visit to DPRK in 2008

Wednesday, July 28th, 2010

I stumbled on a set of photos taken by a Myanmar military delegation which visited the DPRK to shop for military accessories.  The visit was from Nov 21-28, 2008, but there are no KCNA stories which report on the visit.  I am not sure how the pictures made it out of Myanmar, but I am sure somebody got into trouble (UPDATE: See Tad in the comments).  They have been in the public domain for some time I gather, but I had never seen them until recently.

I received the photo set in PDF format with Burmese captions.  The image resolution was not great.  You can see the original PDF here. I had the photo captions translated and matched up with a publication of the group’s membership and itinerary and I even took the time to locate some (though not all) of the group’s destinations on Google Earth. You can see the photos and translated captions here (PDF). It is a large file, so give it a minute to download.  Apologies for any grammatical mistakes in this document.  There are some small typos which I could not be bothered to fix.  I relied on friends (and friends of friends) for all the translation work, but I believe it is all reasonably accurate.

Surprisingly, many of the stops on the delegation’s visit were typical tourist locations: Myohyangsan, West Sea Barrage, Tower of the Juche Idea, Arch of Triumph, Puhung and Yangwang Metro Stops.  But below I identify some of the more unique shopping destinations.

1. The Myanmar military delegation stayed in a “special hotel” for dignitaries behind Kamsusan Palace.  Previous guests have included the former King of Cambodia.  Below are frontal and satellite images:

myanmar-delegation-hotel.jpg myanmar-delegation-hotel-satellitel.jpg

2. The delegation visited a facility called the “Model of Command Post”  (Command Control System and National Air Defense Command System – PLUTO – 4S).  Judging by the satellite imagery, this is a new facility.

3. Judging from the pictures, the delegation seems to have visited the Pipagot Naval Base near Nampo. The South Koreans allege this base was involved in the sinking of the Cheonan.  We are not given this location in the pictures but we do know that the group was near Nampo at the time and that the pictures and satellite imagery of Pipagot are consistent.

myanmar-delegation-pipagot-1.jpg myanmar-delegation-pipagot-2.jpg myanmar-delegation-pipagot-satellite.jpg

4. I believe that the pictures also confirm the Myanmar delegation visited the Onchon Air Force Base.  Again this is because we know the group was near Nampo, the photos and the satellite imagery of the area are consistent, and in the fourth photo below, the Burmese language caption acknowledges the existence of Onchon’s underground aircraft hangar.

myanmar-delegation-onchon-1.jpg mynamar-delegation-onchon-2.jpg myanmar-delegation-onchon-3.jpg

myanmar-delegation-onchon-4.jpg myanmar-delegation-onchon-satellite-1.jpg myanmar-delegation-onchon-satellite-2.jpg

5. And finally, the photos claim that the delegation visited a number of facilities in a place called “Tackwon”:  A Women’s military unit, AA ammunition factory, anti-tank-laser-beam-guided-missile factory, radar factory, and Igla factory.  This location is is actually Taegwan (Daegwan, 대관) in North Pyongan Province (40°13’10.48″N, 125°13’27.32″E).  Of all the facilities mentioned in the itinerary, the only one from which we have ground-level photographs is the “Women’s Artillery Unit” and the  “Radar Factory”.

myanmar-taegwan-1.jpg myanmar-taegwan-2.jpg mynamar-taegwan-3.jpg

As of 12/8/2010 the imagery for this location is in high resolution on Google Earth and we can now pinpoint these locations.  The “Women’s Artillery Unit” is located at 40.218949°, 125.231670° and the “Radar Factory” is located at 40.228778°, 125.237964°.  They are pictured on the left- and right-hand sides of the following image: