North Korea Leadership Watch

Research and Analysis on the DPRK Leadership

DPRK-Burma: New Old Friends

Gen Shwe Mann (left) and Gen Kim Gyok-sik exchange copies of a memorandum of understanding at the Defense Ministry on November, 2008. (The Irrawaddy)

The Irrawaddy has published a comprehensive report about the relationship between the DPRK and Burma (Myanmar) which include weapons sales, and most especially, engineering and personnel support in tunnel construction.  North Korean ties to Burma go back to the 1960’s when the country provided weapons, trainers and money to the Burmese Communist Party.  In 1983 North Korea selected Burma’s former capital city, Rangoon, its first choice to detonate a bomb in an assassination attempt on ROK President Chun Doo-hwan.  The bombing killed 21 people, including four ROK Cabinet Members, and Burma severed relations.  The countries officially re-established diplomatic relations in April, 2007.

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.

A note about the image posted above;  in the documentary cited by this report, and the image above, the most prominent North Korean elite was Gen. Kim Kyok Shik.  In November, 2008, Gen. Kim was Chief of the KPA General Staff.  He was reassigned in February 2009, and is believed to  be either commander or stationed at the IV Army Corps in South Hwanghae.

(added 11 July 2010)

Burma seems to be covering its bets on the Korean Peninsula.  Xinhua reports:

South Korea will provide more information and technology assistance to Myanmar to help the country manage agricultural production, the official daily New Light of Myanmar reported Sunday.

It was discussed between officials of the Union of Myanmar Chambers of Commerce and Industry (UMFCCI) and the visiting S. Korean delegation, led by Lee Ileui Tae, Secretary of the National Agricultural Production Management Division of the Ministry of Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries recently, the report said.

Myanmar and South Korea have been launching extensive cooperation this year, especially in the fields of technology, trade and investment, and education, bringing its bilateral cooperation to a new high.

Among the cooperation projects was also one by the KOICA, which is South Korean government’s overseas aid agency. It has been providing training to Myanmar government staff in information and technology (IT), industrial and forestry sectors as well as technical expertise and equipment needed for social service organizations’ training in related fields

An affiliate of 38 North