Archive for the ‘Myanmar’ Category

Janes Intelligence Review confirms Myanmar nuke program

Sunday, July 25th, 2010

According to Bloomberg:

Allegations by a Myanmar defector that the military-run country is pursuing a nuclear program are corroborated by newly available commercial satellite images, Jane’s Intelligence Review said in an article released yesterday.

The photos of buildings and security fences near the country’s capital, Naypyidaw, confirm reports by Major Sai Thein Win of machine tool factories and other facilities alleged to be part of a nascent program to build nuclear weapons, the magazine reported from London.

“They will not make a bomb with the technology they currently possess or the intellectual capability,” Jane’s analyst Allison Puccioni said in an interview. “The two factors do make it possible to have a route to one.”

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed concern about reports that North Korea and Myanmar are expanding military ties and sharing nuclear technology at a meeting of Southeast Asian foreign ministers in Thailand last year.

Clinton said the U.S. would remain “vigilant” against any military cooperation between the two countries. Yesterday, Clinton announced further sanctions against North Korea in an effort to halt the country’s nuclear-weapons program.

Sai said he worked at two factories involved in the nuclear program. His report to a Burmese opposition news website, Democratic Voice of Burma, based in Norway, included documents and color photographs of the interior of the installations.

The satellite imagery reviewed by Jane’s showed only the exterior of the buildings, Puccioni said.

‘Overly Ambitious’

Jane’s said Myanmar’s nuclear program is “overly ambitious with limited expertise,” in a statement yesterday. While Myanmar is a signatory to international agreements to control nuclear weapons use, it hasn’t agreed to more recent changes in the treaties and therefore isn’t subject to international inspections, the magazine said.

“With Myanmar’s current freedom from sanctions and relative economic prosperity, the junta may be able to outsource the technical know-how and tools to reach its goals far sooner than expected,” Christian Le Mière, editor of Jane’s Intelligence Review, said in a statement.

“Someone had to be assisting them, that’s the frightening thing,” said David Kay, a former United Nations weapons inspector and now a fellow at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies in Arlington, Virginia, in an interview. “Myanmar is uniquely incapable of carrying this through.”

North Korea could be the country providing aid, said Michael J. Green, an adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and former senior director for Asia on the National Security Council under President George W. Bush.

North Korea

During the Bush administration, North Korea discussed delivering short-range missiles and nuclear capability to Myanmar, Green said.

“We worry about the transfer of nuclear technology” and indications of clandestine military cooperation between two of Asia’s most secretive regimes, Clinton said last year. “I’m not saying it is happening, but we want to be prepared to stand against it.”

State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley said on July 12 that the U.S. continues “to have concerns about Burma’s relationship with North Korea. It’s something that we watch very, very carefully and consistently.”

Last year, the U.S. Navy followed the Kang Nam I, a North Korean freighter headed in the direction of Myanmar with unknown cargo. The ship turned around and returned home.

The evidence points to a method of uranium enrichment, laser enrichment, that the North Koreans have never used, Kay said. “If it is laser enrichment the finger points more toward Chinese assistance or some place in the former Soviet Union,” he said.

Read the full story here:
Myanmar Nuclear Weapon Program Claims Supported by Photos, Jane’s Reports
Bloomberg
Peter S. Green
7/21/2010

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Burma-North Korea Ties: Escalating Over Two Decades

Wednesday, July 7th, 2010

According to the Irrawaddy:

A recent New York Times op-ed article by Aung Lynn Htut, formerly a high-ranking Burmese military intelligence officer who defected in 2005 while he served as an attaché at the Burmese embassy in Washington, shed new light on the history of the still murky relationship between Burma and North Korea, two of the world’s most isolated, secretive and oppressive regimes.

Burma broke diplomatic relations with North Korea in 1983, when North Korean agents attempted to assassinate the South Korean president on Burmese soil. But according to Aung Lynn Htut, shortly after current junta-chief Snr-Gen Than Shwe assumed power in 1992, he surreptitiously moved to renew ties with Pyongyang.

“Than Shwe secretly made contact with Pyongyang. Posing as South Korean businessmen, North Korean weapon experts began arriving in Burma. I remember these visitors. They were given special treatment at the Rangoon airport,” Aung Lynn Htut said in his June 18 article.

The junta kept its renewed ties with North Korea secret for more than a decade because it was working to establish relationships with Japanese and South Korean businesses, Aung Lynn Htut said. By 2006, however, “the junta’s generals felt either desperate or confident enough to publicly resume diplomatic relations with North Korea.” 

In November 2008, the junta’s No 3, Gen Shwe Mann, visited North Korea and signed a memorandum of understanding, officially formalizing military cooperation between Burma and North Korea. Photographs showed him touring secret tunnel complexes built into the sides of mountains thought to store and protect jet aircraft, missiles, tanks and nuclear and chemical weapons.

According to Aung Lynn Htut, Lt-Gen Tin Aye, the No.5 in the Burma armed forces and the chief of Military Ordnance, is now the main liaison in the relationship with Pyongyang. Tin Aye has often traveled to North Korea as well as attended ceremonies at the North Korean embassy in Rangoon.

In September 2009, The New Light of Myanmar reported that Tin Aye went to the anniversary celebration of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), held in a hotel in Rangoon. In February, Tin Aye, along with other senior officials, attended the birthday event of the Dear Leader of North Korea at the embassy.

Flights and ships from North Korea to Burma have been carrying more than just Burmese generals. Analysts, including Burma military expert Andrew Selth, say that for years Burma and North Korea have used a barter system whereby Burma exchanges primary products for North Korean military technologies.

In June 2009, a North Korean ship, the Kang Nam I, was diverted from going to Burma after being trailed by the US navy. Then in April, another North Korean ship, the Chong Gen, docked in Burma carrying suspicious cargo, allegedly in violation of the UN Security Council Resolution 1874, which restricts North Korea from arms deals and from trading in technology that could be used for nuclear weapons.

In May, the seven-member UN panel monitoring the implementation of sanctions against North Korea said in a report that Pyongyang is involved in banned nuclear and ballistic activities in Iran, Syria and Burma with the aid of front companies around the world.

According to the UN report, a North Korean company, Namchongang Trading, which is known to be associated with illicit procurement for Burma’s nuclear and military program and is on the US sanctions list, was involved in suspicious activities in Burma.

The report also noted three individuals were arrested in Japan in 2009 for attempting to illegally export a magnetometer—a dual-use instrument that can be employed in making missile control system magnets and gas centrifuge magnets—to Burma via Malaysia allegedly under the direction of another company known to be associated with illicit procurement for North Korea’s nuclear and military programs.

The UN experts also said that the Korea Kwangson Banking Corporation has handled several transactions involving millions of dollars directly related to deals between Burma and the Korea Mining Development Trading Corporation.
 
With this string of events and the suspicions surrounding them as a dramatic lead in, on June 4, Al Jazeera aired a news documentary prepared by the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) which was written by Robert Kelley, a nuclear scientist and former director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The DVB report claimed that the ruling military junta in Burma is “mining uranium, converting it to uranium compounds for reactors and bombs, and is trying to build a reactor and/or an enrichment plant that could only be useful for a bomb.”

The IAEA wrote to Burma’s agency representative, Tin Win, on June 14 and asked whether the information provided in the DVB report was true. Burma, which is a member of the IAEA, a party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and a signatory to the Southeast Asia Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone Treaty, responded with a letter stating that the DVB report allegations are “groundless and unfounded.”

“No activity related to uranium conversion, enrichment, reactor construction or operation has been carried out in the past, is ongoing or is planned for the future in Myanmar [Burma],” the letter said.

The letter also noted that Burma is a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the agency’s so-called safeguards agreement. “As stated in the safeguards agreement, Myanmar will notify the agency if it plans to carry out any nuclear activities,” the letter said.

The regime, however, has not signed the IAEA’s Additional Protocol, meaning that the agency has no power to set up an inspection of Burma’s nuclear facilities under the existing mechanism known as the Small Quantities Protocol.

Previously, on June 11, Burma’s state radio and television news had reported the Foreign Ministry’s denial of the allegations in the DVB report. The denial claimed that anti-government groups in collusion with the media had launched the allegations with the goal of “hindering Burma’s democratic process and to tarnish the political image of the government.”

The Foreign Ministry denial also addressed Nyapyidaw’s relationship with Pyongyang. “Following the re-establishment of diplomatic relations, Myanmar [Burma] and the DPRK, as independent sovereign states, have been engaging in promoting trade and cooperation between the two countries in the same way Myanmar is dealing with others,” the ministry said in its statement.

The regime did acknowledge that the Chong Gen docked at Thilawa Port near Rangoon in April. But the statement said the North Korean vessel was involved in importing cement from North Korea and exporting rice from Burma.

But in an article for Asia Times online, Burma analyst Bertil Linter noted that, “if carrying only innocuous civilian goods, as the statement maintains, there would seemingly have been no reason for authorities to cut electricity around the area when the Chong Gen, a North Korean ship flying the Mongolian flag of convenience, docked on the outskirts of Yangon.”

“According to intelligence sources, security was tight as military personnel offloaded heavy material, including Korean-made air defense radars. The ship left the port with a return cargo of rice and sugar, which could mean that it was, at least in part, a barter deal. On January 31 this year, another North Korean ship, the Yang M V Han A, reportedly delivered missile components also at Yangon’s Thilawa port,” Linter said.

Strategypage.com, a military affairs website covering armed forces worldwide, said, “Indications are that the North Korean ship that delivered a mysterious cargo four months ago, was carrying air defense radars (which are now being placed on hills up north) and ballistic missile manufacturing equipment. Dozens of North Korean technicians have entered the country in the last few months, and have been seen working at a military facility outside Mandalay. It’s unclear what this is for. Burma has no external enemies, and ballistic missiles are of no use against internal opposition.”

In his Asia Times online story, Lintner noted that on June 24, the DVB reported that a new radar and missile base had been completed near Mohnyin in Myanmar’s northern Kachin State, and he reported that work on similar radar and missile bases has been reported from Kengtung in eastern Shan State,160 kilometers north of the Thai border town of Mae Sai.

“Since Myanmar is not known to have imported radars and missile components from any country other than North Korea, the installations would appear to be one of the first visible outcomes of a decade of military cooperation,” Lintner said.

Lintner also reported that Western intelligence sources know that 30 to 40 North Korean missile technicians are currently working at a facility near Minhla on the Irrawaddy River in Magwe Division, and that some of the technicians may have arrived overland by bus from China to give the appearance of being Chinese tourists. 

North Korea has also issued adamant denials with respect to allegations regarding its relationship with Burma.

According to the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), on June 21 Pyongyang said, “The US is now making much fuss, floating the sheer fiction that the DPRK is helping Myanmar [Burma] in its nuclear development.”

The KCNA often highlights the close relationship between North Korea and Burma.

On June 20, the Pyongyang news agency reported that ex-Col Than Tun, deputy chairman of the Union of Myanmar Economic Holding Ltd., sent a statement cheering Kim Jong Il’s 46th anniversary at the Central Committee of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea.

On April 18, Korean state-run- media reported that Than Tun also issued a statement cheering the 17th anniversary of Kim Jong Il’s chairing of North Korea’s National Defense Commission.

“Kim Jong Il’s field inspection of KPA [Korean People’s Army] units served as a main source that helped bolster [North Korea’s] self-reliant defense capability in every way,” the statement noted.

Military sources said the Union of Myanmar Economic Holding Ltd, managed by the junta, is responsible for purchasing imported weapons for Burma’s armed forces, including transferring money to overseas banks such as Korea Kwangson Banking Corporation.

Meanwhile, in addition to its escalating relationship with North Korea, the Burmese military regime has recently boosted ties with Iran, which according to the UN report is also allegedly receiving nuclear and missile technologies from North Korea.

In recent years, Burmese and Iranian officials visited their counterparts homeland for the purported purpose of improving economic ties. Observers, however, said Than Shwe has made a tactical decision to develop relationships with other “pariah states,” particularly enemies of the US, to relieve Western pressure on his regime.

Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammad Ali Fathollahi met Burmese Foreign Minister Nyan Win and Minister of Energy Lun Thi during his trip to Burma on June 15-17.

“The two sides reiterated their desire to further expand the ties of friendship and economic cooperation and to increase cooperation in the regional international forums such as [the] United Nations and Non-Aligned Movement,” The New Light of Myanmar reported on June 18.

Fathollahi’s visit came three months after Maung Myint’s visit to Iran on March 8-11, when he met Iranian Foreign Minister Manochehr Mottaki and Deputy Minister of Petroleum H. Noghrehkar Shirazi.

Read the full story below:
Burma-North Korea Ties: Escalating Over Two Decades
Irrawaddy
Wai Moe
7/7/2010

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Myanmar buying DPRK military equipment

Sunday, May 16th, 2010

According to Interconnected World:

Secrecy normally shrouds military relations between Burma and its strategic allies such as China and North Korea, but intelligence sources suggest ongoing military ties with these two countries are helping the Burmese generals’ to achieve their military ambitions, including that of becoming a nuclear power.

Intelligence sources said top junta generals have held late- night meetings in Naypyidaw in the last two months, discussing military modernization, foreign relations, tension with ethnic groups and suppressing dissidents in urban areas.

They said the junta bought weapons from China and North Korea including mid-range missiles and rocket launchers in April, and suggested the war office in Naypyidaw chose the month when the Burmese celebrate new year in order to avoid public scrutiny.

Equipment necessary to build a nuclear capability was reportedly among imported military supplies from North Korea that arrived at the beginning of the holidays.

A report from Rangoon in April also referred to an undisclosed vessel believed to be connected with North Korea that was seen at Thilawar Port, near Rangoon. Burmese officials at the time said the vessel was there to load Burmese rice destined for North Korea.

Military relations between Naypyidaw and Pyongyang have been attracting attention from analysts, diplomats and journalists in recent years. In August 2009, an article in Sydney Morning Herald alleged the Burmese junta aims to get an atomic bomb in five years using Burmese enriched uranium and North Korean nuclear technology.

Apart from nuclear know-how and equipment, Pyongyang has also provided the Burmese junta’s armed forces with truck-mounted multiple rocket launchers, surface-to-air and surface-to-surface missiles and technology for underground warfare since the early 2000s, according to experts on Burma’s military like Andrew Selth.

“Pyongyang needs Burmese primary products, which Naypyidaw can in turn use to barter for North Korea arms, expertise and technology,” wrote Andrew Selth in the Australian Journal of International Affairs in March.

Read the full article here:
Burma said buying arms from China, North Korea
Interconnected World
5/10/2010

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DPRK Myanmar military relationship growing

Thursday, March 4th, 2010

According to the Washington Post:

The Obama administration, concerned that Burma is expanding its military relationship with North Korea, has launched an aggressive campaign to persuade Burma’s junta to stop buying North Korean military technology, U.S. officials said.

Concerns about the relationship — which encompass the sale of small arms, missile components and technology possibly related to nuclear weapons — in part prompted the Obama administration in October to end the George W. Bush-era policy of isolating the military junta, said a senior State Department official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.

Senior U.S. officials have since had four meetings with their Burmese counterparts, with a fifth expected soon. “Our most decisive interactions have been around North Korea,” the official said. “We’ve been very clear to Burma. We’ll see over time if it’s been heard.”

Underlining the administration’s concerns about Burma is a desire to avoid a repeat of events that unfolded in Syria in 2007. North Korea is thought to have helped Syria secretly build a nuclear reactor there capable of producing plutonium. The facility was reportedly only weeks or months away from being functional when Israeli warplanes bombed it in September of that year.

“The lesson here is the Syrian one,” said David Albright, president of the nongovernmental Institute for Science and International Security and an expert on nuclear proliferation. “That was such a massive intelligence failure. You can’t be sure that North Korea isn’t doing it someplace else. The U.S. government can’t afford to be blindsided again.”

Burma is thought to have started a military relationship with North Korea in 2007. But with the passage of a U.N. Security Council resolution last June banning all weapons exports from North Korea, Burma has emerged “as a much bigger player than it was,” the senior U.S. official said.

In a report Albright co-wrote in January, titled “Burma: A Nuclear Wannabe,” he outlined the case for concern about Burma’s relations with North Korea. First, Burma has signed a deal with Russia for the supply of a 10-megawatt thermal research reactor, although construction of the facility had not started as of September.

Second, although many claims from dissident groups about covert nuclear sites in Burma are still unverified, the report said that “there remain legitimate reasons to suspect the existence of undeclared nuclear activities in Burma, particularly in the context of North Korean cooperation.”

Previous posts about the Myanmar-DPRK relationship can be found here

Read the full story here:
U.S. increasingly wary as Burma deepens military relationship with North Korea
Washington Post
John Pomfret
3/4/2010

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Myanmar – DPRK relationship grows

Friday, July 10th, 2009

According to Aung Zaw in the Wall Street Journal Aisa:

A government report leaked by a Burmese official last month shed new light on these ties. It described a Memorandum of Understanding between Burma and North Korea signed during a secret visit by Burmese officials to Pyongyang in November 2008. The visit was the culmination of years of work. Diplomatic relations between the two countries were cut in 1983 following a failed assassination attempt by North Korean agents on the life of South Korean President Chun Doo Hwan while he was visiting Rangoon. The attack cost 17 Korean lives and Burma cut off ties.

One of the first signs of warming relations was a barter agreement between the two countries that lasted from 2000 to 2006 and saw Burma receive between 12 and 16 M-46 field guns and as many as 20 million rounds of 7.62 mm ammunition from North Korea, according to defense analyst Andrew Selth of Griffith University in Australia. In exchange, Burma bartered food and rice.

The two countries formally re-established diplomatic relations in April 2007. After that, the North Korean ship the Kang Nam — the same ship that recently turned away from Burma after being followed by the U.S. navy — made a trip to Burma’s Thilawa port. Western defense analysts concluded that the ship carried conventional weapons and missiles to Burma.

This laid the ground for the MoU signed in November, when Shwe Mann, the regime’s third-most powerful figure, made a secret visit to North Korea, according to the leaked report. Shwe Mann is the chief of staff of the army, navy and air force, and the coordinator of Special Operations. He spent seven days in Pyongyang, traveling via China. His 17-member delegation received a tour around Pyongyang and Myohyang, where secret tunnels have been built into mountains to shelter aircraft, missiles, tanks and nuclear and chemical weapons.

The MoU he signed formalizes the military cooperation between the two countries. According to the terms of the document, North Korea will build or supervise the construction of special Burmese military facilities, including tunnels and caves in which missiles, aircraft and even naval ships could be hidden. Burma will also receive expert training for its special forces, air defense training, plus a language training program between personnel in the two armed forces.

Shwe Mann’s delegation also visited a surface-to-surface missile factory, partially housed in tunnels, on the outskirts of Pyongyang to observe missile production. The Burmese were particularly interested in short-range 107 mm and 240 mm multirocket launchers — a multipurpose, defensive missile system used in case of a foreign invasion. Also of great interest was the latest in antitank, laser-guided missile technology.

Previous Myanmar – DPRK posts here.

Read the full story below:
Burma and North Korea, Brothers in Arms
Wall Street Journal Asia
Aung Zaw
7/10/2009

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N. Korea digs tunnels in Myanmar to earn dollars

Friday, June 12th, 2009

Korea Herald and Yale Global
Bertil Linter
6/12/2009

burma-tunnels.jpg

Missiles and weapon technology, counterfeiting money and cigarette smuggling, front companies and restaurants in foreign countries, labor export to the Middle East – North Korea has been very innovative when it comes to raising badly needed foreign exchange for the regime in Pyongyang. But there is a less known trade in service that the North Koreans have offered to its foreign clients: expertise in tunneling. A fascinating new glimpse of this business has now been offered in secret photos from Burma obtained by this correspondent.

The photos, taken between 2003 and 2006, show that while the rest of the world is speculating about the outcome of long-awaited elections in Burma, the ruling military junta has been busy digging in for the long haul – literally. North Korean technicians have helped them construct underground facilities where they can survive any threats from their own people as well as the outside world. It is not known if the tunnels are linked to Burma’s reported efforts to develop nuclear technology – in which the North Koreans allegedly are active as well. (See Burma’s Nuclear Temptation by Bertil Lintner, YaleGlobal, Dec. 3, 2008)

The photographs published here show that an extensive network of underground installations was built near Burma’s new, fortified capital Naypyidaw. In November 2005, the military moved its administration from the old capital Rangoon to an entirely new site that was carved out of the wilderness 460 kilometers north of Rangoon.

Meaning the “Abode of Kings,” Naypyidaw is meant to symbolize the power of the military and its desire to build a new state based on the tradition of Burma’s pre-colonial warrior kings. But underground facilities were apparently deemed necessary to secure the military’s grip on power. Additional tunnels and underground meeting halls have been built near Taunggyi, the capital of Burma’s northeastern Shan State and the home of several of the country’s decades-long insurgencies. Some of the pictures, taken in June 2006, show a group of technicians in civilian dress walking out of a government guesthouse in the Naypyidaw area. Asian diplomats have identified those technicians, with features distinct from the Burmese workers around them, as North Koreans.

This is quite a turn around as Burma severed relations with Pyongyang in 1983 after North Korean agents planted a bomb at Rangoon’s Martyrs Mausoleum killing 18 visiting South Korean officials, including the then-deputy prime minister and three other government ministers.

Secret talks between Burmese and North Korean diplomats began in Bangkok in the early 1990s. The two sides had discovered that despite the hostile act in the previous decade they had a lot in common. Both had come under unprecedented international condemnation, especially by the United States, because of their blatant disregard for the most basic human rights and Pyongyang for its nuclear weapons program. Burma also needed more military hardware to suppress an increasingly rebellious urban population as well as ethnic rebels in the frontier areas. North Korea needed food, rubber and other essentials – and was willing to accept barter deals, which suited the cash-strapped Burmese generals. “They have both drawn their wagons in a circle ready to defend themselves,” a Bangkok-based Western diplomat said. “Burma’s generals admire the North Koreans for standing up to the United States and wish they could do the same.”

After an exchange of secret visits, North Korean armaments began to arrive in Burma. The curious relationship between Burma and North Korea was first disclosed in the Hong Kong-based weekly Far Eastern Economic Review on July 10, 2003. A group of 15-20 North Korean technicians were then seen at a government guesthouse near the old capital Rangoon. The report was met with skepticism, especially because of the 1983 Rangoon bombings. But, when North Korean-made field artillery pieces were seen in Burma in the early 2000s, it became clear that North Korea had found a new ally – several years before diplomatic relations between the two countries were restored in April 2007.

“While based on a 1950s Russian design, these weapons (the field guns) were battle-tested and reliable,” Australian Burma scholar Andrew Selth stated in a 2004 working paper for the Australian National University. “They significantly increased Burma’s long-range artillery capabilities, which were then very weak.” Since then, Burma has also taken delivery of North Korean truck-mounted, multiple rocket launchers and possibly also surface-to-air missiles for its Chinese-supplied naval vessels.

Then came the tunneling experts. Most of Pyongyang’s own defense industries, including its chemical and biological-weapons programs, and many other military as well as government installations are underground. This includes known factories at Ganggye and Sakchu, where thousands of technicians and workers labor in a maze of tunnels dug under mountains. The export of such know-how to Burma was first documented in June 2006, when intelligence agencies intercepted a message from Naypyidaw confirming the arrival of a group of North Korean tunneling experts at the site. Today, three years later, the dates on the photos published today confirm the accuracy of this report. By now, the tunnels and underground installations should be completed, as would those near Taunggyi. This well-hidden complex ensures there is no danger of irate civilians storming government buildings, as they did during the massive pro-democracy uprising in August-September 1988. Sources say that the internationally isolated military junta may also consider these deep bunkers as their last repair in case of air strikes of the kind that the Taliban in Afghanistan or Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq endured.

It is not clear how much, or what, Burma has paid for the assistance provided by the North Korean experts, but it could be food – or gold, which is found in riverbeds in northern Burma. Or some other mineral. Burma, of course, is not the only foreign tunneling venture by North Korea.

In southern Lebanon following the 2006 war, Israel’s Defense Forces and the United Nations found several of the underground complexes, which by then had been abandoned by Hezbollah militants. By coincidence or not, these tunnels and underground rooms – some big enough for meetings to be held there – are strikingly similar to those the South Koreans have unearthed under the Demilitarized Zone that separates South from North Korea. Under small, manhole cover-sized entrances hidden under grass and bushes were steel-lined shafts with ladders leading down to big rooms with electricity, ventilation, bathrooms with showers and drainage systems. Some of the tunnels are 40 meters deep and located only 100 meters from the Israeli border. North Korea’s possible involvement in digging these tunnels is however, difficult to ascertain. According to Israeli investigative journalist Ronen Bergman, a senior officer in the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, who had defected to the West, revealed that, “thanks to the presence of hundreds of Iranian engineers and technicians, and experts from North Korea who were brought in by Iranian diplomats ?¶ Hezbollah succeeded in building a 25-kilometer subterranean strip in South Lebanon.”

Beirut sources suggest that it is more likely that Hezbollah has used North Korean designs and blueprints given to them by their Syrian or Iranian allies – both of whom are close to the North Koreans. (Both Iran and Syria have acquired missile technology from North Korea, and what was believed to be a secret nuclear reactor in Syria built with North Korean help was destroyed by the Israeli air force in September 2007.) Either way, North Korean expertise in tunneling has become a valuable commodity for export. And Pyongyang is flexible about the method of payment as long as it helps the international pariah regime.

Bertil Lintner is a Swedish journalist based in Thailand and the author of several works on Asia, including “Blood Brothers: The Criminal Underworld of Asia” and “Great Leader, Dear Leader: Demystifying North Korea under the Kim Clan.” He can be reached at lintner@asiapacificms.com – Ed.

UPDATE: Burmese whistle-blowers sentenced to death
BBC
1/7/10

Two Burmese officials have been sentenced to death for leaking details of secret government visits to North Korea and Russia, the BBC has learned.

The officials were also found guilty of leaking information about military tunnels allegedly built in Burma by North Korea, a source in Burma said.

A third person was jailed for 15 years, the source added.

The military rulers in Burma (Myanmar) have so far made no public comments on the case.

The source told BBC Burmese that Win Naing Kyaw, a former army major, and Thura Kyaw, a clerk at the European desk of Burma’s foreign ministry, had been sentenced to death by a court in Rangoon on Thursday.

They were found guilty of leaking information about government visits to North Korea and Russia, which reportedly took place in 2008 and 2006.

The two men were also convicted of leaking details of a network of tunnels reportedly being built in Burma.

It is thought the tunnels were built to house communications systems, possible weapons factories and troops in the event of an invasion.

The third man, Pyan Sein, was given 15 years in prison on Thursday.

Burma still has capital punishment, but it has not carried out executions in recent years.

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DPRK and Myanmar trade: Guns and rubber

Sunday, August 24th, 2008

Myanmar severed diplomatic relations with the DPRK after North Korean agents attempted to assassinate South Korea  president Chun Doo Hwan on his October 1983 visit to Rangoon.

Diplomatic relations between the two countries were restored in April 2007.  Shortly after, North Korea was accused of selling rocket launchers to Myanmar’s SPDC (Orwellian acronym for: State Peace and Development Council)–formerly known as SLORC (State Law and Order Restoration Council).

Now the AFP reports that trade has expanded into natural resources, with which Myanmar is abundantly blessed:

Military-run Myanmar is to begin exporting rubber to North Korea, in a further warming of relations between the reclusive governments of the two countries, a weekly newspaper reported Tuesday.

“They will start by importing at least 10,000 tonnes within the first year,” Khaing Myint of the Myanmar Rubber Planters and Producers Association was quoted as saying by the Myanmar Times.

“We are extremely pleased to add another client nation to our export destinations for our rubber. We expect the first batch to be delivered in October,” Khaing Myint reportedly said.

Read the full article here:
Myanmar to begin rubber exports to North Korea
AFP
8/19/2008

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North Korea sells rocket launchers to Myanmar

Thursday, April 3rd, 2008

Reuters excerpt: 

North Korea has been selling multiple rocket launchers to military-ruled Myanmar since the two countries restored ties last year in violation of U.N. sanctions, Japan’s NHK public broadcaster reported.

Quoting unspecified diplomatic sources, NHK said in a report late on Wednesday that the launchers were the same type as those deployed near the demilitarized zone separating the Korean peninsula.

The report could not be independently confirmed.

A Security Council resolution passed after North Korea’s 2006 nuclear test blocks trade with the secretive communist country in dangerous weapons, heavy conventional weapons and luxury goods.

Read the whole story here:
North Korea sells rocket launchers to Myanmar: report
Reuters
4/3/2008

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Signals coming from the media in North Korea

Saturday, November 3rd, 2007

Joong Ang Daily
Brian Lee
11/1/2007

Newspapers indicate a desire for more outside interactions

North Korea is increasingly sending out signals through its state media indicating a desire to interact more with the outside world.

The North’s communist party newspaper Rodong Sinmun said in an editorial earlier this week that it is no longer a time for production and construction to be achieved through the workers’ bare hands alone.

“We are stressing self-sufficiency, but that does not mean we are disregarding international economic relations while striving to build our economy,” the newspaper said. “The republic has always maintained its position that it wants to have good relations, even with capitalist countries.”

The Chosun Sinbo, a pro-Pyongyang newspaper in Japan widely believed to be representing North Korea’s views, also said this week that progress in the six-party talks reflected Pyongyang’s political will to improve ties with neighboring countries.

“The nuclear test was Pyongyang’s tool to change the stalemate with Washington,” said Koh Yoo-hwan, a North Korean specialist at Dongguk University. “It got its attention and now both sides are talking. The diplomatic exchanges with other countries are a sign from the North that it can accept capitalist methods and that it is open to the outside. This is not coming just out of the blue. In the North everything is planned from the top and all these moves are done strategically. They want to connect to the outside.”

Yesterday, North Korea restored diplomatic ties with Burma after 24 years of severed ties over the North’s involvement in a bomb attack on South Korean cabinet members in 1983, The Associated Press reported.

North Korean Premier Kim Yong-il has also embarked on a rare sweep of the Asian region, visiting Vietnam last week with Malaysia, Cambodia and Laos also on his itinerary.

Washington has tried in its own way to lure the isolated North more into the open.

A visit by the New York Philharmonic to the North is being pondered while the JoongAng Sunday reported that the North’s women’s soccer team may visit the United States.

In a related development, Christopher Hill, Washington’s chief representative to the six-party talks, met with his North Korean counterpart Kim Gye-gwan in Beijing yesterday to discuss progress in the nuclear negotiations.

Hill is scheduled to arrive in Seoul today to brief officials here on the meeting, a government official said yesterday on condition of anonymity.

Foreign Minister Song Min-soon told reporters a U.S. team of nuclear experts is scheduled to enter the North today to take actual steps to disable the North’s key nuclear facilities. Pyongyang said earlier this week that such measures would start within this week.

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N. Korea, Myanmar sign agreement on diplomatic cooperation

Friday, September 14th, 2007

Yonhap
9/14/2007

North Korea and Myanmar on Friday signed an agreement on cooperation between their foreign ministries, the North’s official news agency reported without providing details.

“An agreement on cooperation between the foreign ministries of the DPRK and Myanmar was inked here on Friday,” the North’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said in a dispatch from the North Korean capital, Pyongyang.

The DPRK stands for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the North’s official name.

The agreement is viewed as the first concrete step toward normalizing the countries’ relations since they agreed to re-establish diplomatic ties in April.

Myanmar severed its ties with the communist North in 1983 following a failed assassination attempt by North Korean agents on then South Korean President Chun Doo-hwan, who was visiting the south Asian nation.

Twenty-one people, including South Korean Cabinet ministers and presidential aides, were killed in the 1983 bombing.

Friday’s agreement was signed by the North’s Vice Foreign Minister Kim Yong-il and his Myanmarese counterpart U Kyaw Thu, according to the KCNA report.

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An affiliate of 38 North