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Burma ‘halting arms purchases’ from North Korea

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

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, right, shakes hands with Burma's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, right, shakes hands with Burma's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi
Image: AP Photo/Yonhap, Kim Byung-man

BURMA’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, Burma 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 Burma will no longer buy weapons from North Korea, honouring a UN 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 Burma, 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. Burma also began buying weapons from North Korea, and was suspected of obtaining nuclear weapons technology as well.

Burma 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.

‘The hard road to democratic leadership’

Suu Kyi said after the 45-minute meeting that South Korea and Burma 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 democratisation when he met the Burma 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 UN Security Council resolutions. He described this as a formal request.

A UN 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, Burma 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 Burma.

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

Read: Two years after house arrest release, Aung San Suu Kyi takes parliamentary seat

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