Myanmar says it will respect UN ban on North

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Myanmar says it will respect UN ban on North

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South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, left, talks with Myanmar President Thein Sein in the Presidential Palace in Naypyitaw on Monday. [NEWSIS]


NAYPYITAW, Myanmar - President Lee Myung-bak’s historic visit to Myanmar is intended to send a signal to North Korea, as the long-isolated Southeast Asian country expressed a strong desire to cooperate with Seoul on economic development.

During Lee’s summit with Myanmar President U Thein Sein on Monday, the two leaders had a lengthy, candid and intense discussion on North Korean issues, said Kim Tae-hyo, senior presidential secretary for national security strategy.

The Blue House, however, said it would only disclose part of the talks because it did not want to trigger an unnecessary reaction from the North.

“In conclusion, we want to tell North Korea that it must learn a lesson from Myanmar,” Kim said. “To cooperate with the international community and receive aid for development.”

Lee asked his Myanmar counterpart to advise the North to open up the country and reform, Kim said.

During the summit, Thein Sein reassured Lee that there were no weapons of mass destruction and nuclear programs currently being developed in Myanmar, Kim said.

According to Kim, Thein Sein told Lee that Myanmar once tried to import two nuclear reactors for civilian research purposes from Russia, but it gave up on its nuclear research plans.

“He made it clear that it had never cooperated with the North on nuclear issues,” Kim said. “He also said Myanmar would thoroughly respect the international non-proliferation treaty and respect the UN Security Council resolution 1874.”

The resolution, adopted in the aftermath of the North’s nuclear test in 2009, imposed further economic and commercial sanctions on the North and strengthened its arms trade embargo on the country. In making these assurances, the Myanmar leader made it clear that the country understood that military cooperation with Pyongyang was in violation of international norms, without specifying North Korea.

Myanmar cut its ties with the North in 1983 after North Korean agents attempted to assassinate South Korean President Chun Doo Hwan during his visit to the Southeast Asian country.

Myanmar and the North, however, restored their ties in April 2007, united by their hostility toward the United States.

Since then, reports have been made about the suspected arms trade between the two countries, though no official information is available as to the extent of the dealings.

“Because Myanmar was long isolated, it had no friends in the international community,” Kim said. “And its close relationship with the North was understandable. But now, Myanmar has made a decision and taken a new path. Myanmar recognizes that its relations with the two Koreas will change drastically from now on.”

The release of a North Korean defector in Myanmar was also discussed at the summit, perhaps a sign of Myanmar’s determination to redefine its relations with the two Koreas.

According to Kim, the man, who began serving a five-year prison term after his conviction in March 2010 for illegal entry, will soon be sent to South Korea.

While Kim refused to disclose the details of the North Korea-Myanmar arms trade, deeming it classified intelligence, accusations were made over the past years about the illicit dealings between the world’s two most isolated governments.

Accusations were made in 2010 in a United Nations report that North Korea was supplying illicit ballistic-missile and nuclear technology to Iran, Syria and Myanmar.

In June 2011, a report was also made that the U.S. Navy had intercepted a North Korean ship suspected of carrying missile technology to Myanmar. The ship returned home after days of standoff at sea, the report said.

In November 2011, U.S. Senator Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.) asserted that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee had received information about five years ago that the Myanmar government intended to develop nuclear weapons with assistance from the North.

Ahead of Monday’s summit, Kim said Lee planned to tell Thein Sein that more assistance from South Korea was to come in return for Myanmar’s severing military cooperation with the North. Seoul was ready to provide the development know-how to the impoverished, yet resource-rich country, Kim said.

It is not the first time that Lee has told the North Korean leadership to learn from Myanmar. Following the North’s latest long-range missile test in April, Lee criticized the leadership of Pyongyang for having spent a fortune on the failed arms test while its citizens were suffering from starvation. At the time, he also reminded the North of economic developments in China, Vietnam and Myanmar through reforms.

At the Lee-Thein Sein summit, the Myanmar president made a strong, lengthy appeal for South Korea’s assistance for the country’s economic development. Thein Sein expressed hope for South Korea’s support in creating a redevelopment plan for the city of Yangon, population 4.3 million. He also asked South Korea to create a five-year national development plan, Kim said. The two leaders agreed that a state-run think tank, modeled after the Korea Development Institute, would be established in Myanmar to educate human resources for development. Seoul will also increase its official development assistance from the current annual $4 million.

While Myanmar was extremely anxious to cooperate with South Korea on economic development, the international sanctions are still an obstacle, Kim said. “Myanmar expressed hope that Korean conglomerates will invest in the country, but the sanctions should be lifted and other bilateral legal measures such as an investment guarantee agreement is necessary,” he said. “For now, we will hand our development expertise over to Myanmar, rather than contributing large amounts of assistance and investment.”

By Ser Myo-ja [myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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