Thursday, July 16, 2009

Army Officers Held Over Publication of Sensitive Material

The Irrawaddy News

Ten high-ranking Burmese army officers have reportedly been arrested on suspicion of divulging to Western and exiled media news of a secret visit to North Korea by the junta’s No 3, Gen Shwe Mann, and photographs and video footage of tunnel construction in and around Naypyidaw.

The suspects, all holding the rank of lieutenant-colonel, will be court-martialed and face the death penalty if convicted, according to one of several sources, a former intelligence officer with close contacts to the seat of power in Naypyidaw.

Some suspected of complicity had gone into hiding, the source said.

In recent weeks, several photographs of Shwe Mann visiting the North Korean capital Pyongyang in November 2008 were carried by several media outlets, including the BBC, CNN, Al Jazeera, the Democratic Voice of Burma, and The Irrawaddy.

Photographs and video footages of a tunnel construction site in Burma were also carried by the media organizations.

Official sources said members of the suspects’ families also feared the consequences of the crackdown.

The Bangkok-based English language daily newspaper The Nation reported at the weekend that several senior Burmese officials had been sacked in recent weeks after publication of photographs of secret tunnels in Burma built by North Korean experts from 2003 to 2006.

In their investigations into the leaks, Burmese intelligence officials reportedly interviewed associates of former intelligence chief, Lt-Gen Khin Nyunt, who was toppled in 2004.

The Nation reported that the authorities had also arrested several journalists thought to have had access to the sensitive material.

During his seven-day visit to Pyongyang, Shwe Mann signed a memorandum of understanding at the defense ministry with North Korea’s Chief of General Staff, Gen Kim Kyok-sik, to formalize military cooperation between the two countries.

Shwe Mann and his followers was also taken on a tour of construction sites where secret tunnels were being built into the mountains to house jet aircraft, missiles, tanks and nuclear and chemical weapons in Pyongyang and Myohyang.

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