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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 233 (October 25, 2012)
*** TOPIC OF THE WEEK (Part 2)

International Community Pressures Myanmar to Cut Military Ties with N. Korea

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- While Myanmar is making progress toward the sweeping reforms, the international community, including the United States and South Korea, is continuing its pressure on the Southeast Asian country to cut its military relations with North Korea.

   North Korea and Myanmar have held close military ties, but their cooperation is now being affected by the rapid progress in diplomatic and commercial relations between the United States and Myanmar.

   Myanmar is alleged to have been an importer of North Korean weapons, and there have been reports that the Southeast Asian country might be seeking Pyongyang's help for a nuclear weapons program. The U.S. has been calling for North Korea to take steps toward denuclearization and address its abysmal human rights record.

   The international move came as Myanmar has won international praise for taking a series of sweeping political and economic reform measures since the country's new government of general-turned-President Thein Sein took power last year after decades of military rule.

   U.S. President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other key U.S. officials have repeatedly demanded Myanmar to cut off its relations with North Korea. In May, the U.S. president said that the U.S. would render more aid to Myanmar if it breaks off relations with North Korea.

   Most recently, the U.S. special representative for North Korea policy said the United States believes that Myanmar is on the right track towards giving up its remaining military ties with North Korea but recognizes it will take time.

   U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Policy Glyn Davies told reporters in Beijing on Oct. 22 that Washington continued to be worried about that relationship and it was an issue raised with their counterparts in the former Burma.

   "I think that Burma's on the right path, that they have made a strategic decision to fundamentally alter their relationship with the DPRK and to ultimately end these relationships with North Korea," Davies said, using the country's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

   "But it's a work in process. It was a long relationship that the two countries had and so it does take some time to work through it," according to a Reuters report from Beijing.

   Myanmar began sweeping reforms last year as it continued to emerge from decades of isolation and military rule, freeing political prisoners, holding elections and normalizing relations with the United States, which has moved to lift sanctions.

   The Southeast Asian country's defense minister said in June that Myanmar had abandoned research on a nuclear program that never progressed very far and had stepped back from close military and political ties with North Korea.

   News reports two years ago indicated Myanmar had obtained technology for enriching uranium from North Korea along with parts for a nuclear weapons program.

   A U.N. panel that monitors compliance with sanctions on North Korea has also investigated reports of possible weapons-related deals between Pyongyang, Syria and Myanmar.

   North Korea remains under heavy U.N. sanctions for its nuclear program that have cut off its previously lucrative arms trade and further isolated the state after its failed 2009 missile test drew sharp rebukes, even from its major ally, China.

   The U.S., meanwhile, is apparently starting to gain some trust in Myanmar amid its nascent move towards democracy. Myanmar, once labeled by the U.S. as an "outpost of tyranny" along with North Korea and others, will distance itself from Pyongyang as it opens up to the outside world with democratic reforms.

   Myanmar's Thein Sein government has released hundreds of political prisoners, relaxed press censorship and sought reconciliation with Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy party (NLD). These moves led to the United States and the European Union to ease some sanctions.

   Under international pressure, North Korea on Sept. 28 denounced calls by the U.S. on Myanmar to end the Southeast Asian country's ties with the socialist North.

   "After first demanding suspension of military ties, the U.S. now came to openly press Myanmar to end relations with us, branding us as a 'bad friend,'" the North's Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman said in a dialogue reported in an English-language dispatch by the state-run (North) Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

   Denouncing the U.S.'s anti-North calls on Myanmar, the North said the "bad friend" title is better suited for the U.S.

   In her September meetings with Myanmar President Thein Sein and Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi in the U.S., Secretary of State Hillary Clinton voiced concerns over the country's alleged ties with North Korea.

   Clinton also conveyed the U.S.'s willingness to ease sanctions on Myanmar if the Southeast Asian nation comes clean on its suspected ties to North Korea.

   After meeting with President Thein Sein in Myanmar's capital of Nay Pyi Taw earlier this year, Clinton said he presented a "comprehensive vision of reform, reconciliation and economic development" for his nation, including nonproliferation commitments regarding North Korea, the release of political prisoners and fair by-elections.

   "The U.S.'s hostile, oppressive policies toward North Korea have not changed a bit," the North Korean spokesman said in the dialogue reported by the state news agency.

   Calling for a change in the U.S.'s stance toward the North, the North Korean spokesman also said, "If the U.S. sticks to its hostile, outdated anti-North policies, it would not be able to put up with (its presence) on the Korean Peninsula."

   In the report, the KCNA quoted the foreign ministry spokesman as saying that the U.S. hostile policy to isolate and stifle the DPRK remains unchanged and has been pushed forward with increased zeal. "It is precisely for this reason that the DPRK has kept itself fully prepared to cope with the U.S. hostile policy toward it."

   "The U.S. which sows discord among countries, nations and tribes and harasses regional and world peace and stability is, in fact, a 'bad friend' whom all the countries aspiring after independence should shun," according to the KCNA report.

   "The DPRK has ensured the peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula by dint of a powerful war deterrent built by itself. If the U.S. keeps its anachronistic hostile policy toward the DPRK, it will meet a miserable end in the Korean Peninsula and the region."

   In Washington on June 27, a high-profile envoy said Myanmar should offer assurances that it has severed all illicit ties with North Korea if it wants a normalization of relations with the United States.

   "We have been quite consistent and direct in public and private about our continuing concerns about the lack of transparency and Burma's military relationship with North Korea," said Derek Mitchell, the nominee to become Washington's ambassador to Myanmar. He was speaking at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee more than a month after his nomination.

   Mitchell, a veteran diplomat with expertise in Asia, also vowed to "be clear that our bilateral relationship can never be fully normalized until we are fully satisfied any illicit ties to North Korea have ended once and for all." Mitchell has served as the U.S. special representative and policy coordinator for Burma since 2011.

   As the relations between the U.S. and Myanmar are progressing, South Korea is also seeking to improve ties with the Southeast Asian country.

   On Aug. 3, South Korea's Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan hailed the progress made by both South Korea and Myanmar in improving bilateral relations, saying he believes that ties with the Southeast Asian country "have been strengthened almost every day."

   Kim made the remarks as he held talks with his Myanmar counterpart Wanna Maung Lwin, who was on a four-day visit to South Korea. Following a landmark visit by South Korean President Lee Myung-bak to Myanmar in May and summit talks with President Thein Sein, how to promote bilateral ties topped the agenda of the talks.

   It is the first time that a top diplomat from Myanmar has visited South Korea since 1999. Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, severed ties with North Korea in 1983 after Pyongyang's bombing of a South Korean presidential delegation on its visit to the Southeast Asian nation.

   Then South Korean President Chun Doo-hwan escaped unharmed, but 21 people, including four South Korean Cabinet ministers, were killed. Myanmar restored relations with North Korea in 2007.

   Earlier in May, Lee visited Myanmar as the first South Korean president to visit the country in 29 years since the North's 1983 terrorist bombing ripped through a Yangon mausoleum.

   Lee praised Myanmar for opening up to the outside world with sweeping democratic reforms, saying he hopes the North will follow in Myanmar's footsteps, "change its thinking, make new friends and open a new age."

   President Lee held summit talks with Sein, where the Myanmar leader agreed to free a North Korean defector detained in the country for illegal border crossing, and promised to abide by a U.N. Security Council resolution aimed at ending Pyongyang's nuclear and missile programs.

   There have been reports of shipments of military equipment from North Korea to Myanmar, and the U.S. suspects that Myanmar might be seeking North Korea's help for a nuclear weapons program.

   On May 20, the U.S. expressed concerns over North Korea's possible proliferation of weapons of mass destruction to Myanmar amid reports that the Southeast Asian state is seeking the North's help to develop nuclear weapons.

   North Korea has been subject to arms and economic embargoes under U.N. resolutions adopted after nuclear and missile tests in 2006 and 2009 that ban the impoverished, nuclear-armed country from trading in weapons of mass destruction, some conventional weapons and luxury goods.

   In June 2010, a North Korean cargo ship, possibly on its way to Myanmar, changed course and returned home after being closely tracked by U.S. Navy vessels.

   North Korean Foreign Minister Pak Ui-chun visited Yangon in July, 2011 prompting the U.S. to issue a statement calling on Myanmar to abide by an arms embargo and other U.N. sanctions against it.