Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Mystery Surrounds North Korean Tunnel-building in Burma

The Irrawaddy News

North Korea has been helping Burma build an extensive network of tunnels in its new capital, Naypyidaw, and in Shan State, as an underground shelter for the government and “for other unknown purposes,” according to the Burma expert and author Bertil Lintner.

Lintner obtained photographs believed to show North Korean experts employed on the secret project, and they illustrate an article he wrote for the US Web site YaleGlobal online.

In an interview with The Irrawaddy, Lintner discusses developments pointing to a closer relationship between North Korea and Burma:

Bertil Lintner

Question: We have seen your recent article in Yale Global online magazine on North Korea’s involvement in tunnel construction. What do you know about tunnels being built around Naypyidaw and in Shan State? Do you think the Burmese junta is worried about foreign invasion or are the generals just paranoid?

Answer: There has been a lot of digging and tunneling since the SPDC decided to move the capital to Naypyidaw. This is hardly surprising as most governments prefer to have certain more sensitive activities out of sight of preying eyes. Even the government of the United States does that.

Some of the tunneling is also fairly innocent and connected with the construction of new hydroelectric power projects in the area. But then there are underground meeting halls as well as underground storage facilities.

This may well reflect the regime's paranoia. They are afraid of US air strikes similar to those against Saddam Hussein in Iraq and the Taliban in Afghanistan. This fear may be totally unjustified, but it's there.

And then, of course, there is always the possibility of a new uprising against the regime. The regime has not forgotten that, in 1988, several government buildings were taken over by anti-government demonstrators. It is quite clear that the military feels much more secure in their new capital, both above and under ground.

Q: Analysts believe that a closer relationship between the regimes of North Korea and Burma is cause for concern. What do you think would be the consequences of a further warming of their relationship?

A: The alleged North Korean involvement in designing and/or building the underground installations in and near Naypyidaw is important. The North Koreans are excellent tunnel-builders, having moved most of their defense installations in their own country underground and dug tunnels under the Demilitarized Zone that separates North from South Korea.

Unlike the SPDC's other business partners, who want to be paid in cash, the North Koreans usually accept barter trade agreements. That suits the SPDC as well.

And both North Korea and Burma are ruled by regimes that have been condemned internationally for human rights abuses and other forms of repression. It is quite natural that the Burmese and North Korean governments "have found" each other. And with the memories of the 1983 Rangoon bombing fading rapidly, it is plausible to assume that we will see more and closer cooperation between Burma and North Korea.

But the rest of the region is definitely not pleased with this development, and it remains to be seen what action the Association of Southeast Asian Nations will take, if any, to pull Burma away from North Korea.

Q: Burma has bought a nuclear reactor from Russia but nothing has since been heard about the project. While the regime says the project has a peaceful purpose, it is interesting to note that Burma’s fledgling nuclear program, with Russian assistance, and its mysterious connections to North Korea arouse only suspicion and concern in the region. According to Burmese exiles in Thailand, the Russians and North Koreans are assisting the Burmese in developing nuclear capability. How do you view these suspicions and concerns?

A: I think many outsiders are very concerned about all sorts of cooperation between the North Koreans and the Burmese authorities, but if that also included cooperation in the nuclear field, I think many countries in the region and beyond would be alarmed. There are numerous reports of such cooperation, and lots of rumors. But we have to wait for some firmer confirmation before we can draw any conclusions.

Q: In the past three years, North Korean ships have made mysterious visits to ports in Burma. We have established that North Korea has been providing conventional weaponry, including missiles, to the Naypyidaw regime. Since diplomatic relations were restored between North Korea and Burma in 2007 we have seen a flurry of official and unofficial visits by Burmese officials to the North Korean capital. How do you assess these visits and mysterious port calls?

A: We don't know what kind of cargo those ships were carrying, but, judging from eyewitness reports, it seems to have been very heavy. And the official explanation that the ships had to seek shelter from bad weather in the Bay of Bengal is not credible. I checked all relevant weather reports during, before and after the North Korean ships arrived in Burma, and the weather was fine. The fact that the authorities feel compelled to lie about this indicated that they've got something to hide. The ships could have carried heavy weaponry, some kind of machinery or something else. We just don't know.

Recent Posts from Burma Wants Freedom and Democracy

Recent posts from WHO is WHO in Burma


The Nuke Light of Myanmar Fan Box
The Nuke Light of Myanmar on Facebook
Promote your Page too