Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Crackdown on Passport Brokers Linked to Leaked Photos?

The Irrawaddy News

At least 10 passport brokers in Rangoon have been arrested by the Burmese authorities during a recent crackdown, according to sources in Rangoon.

Sources close to several passport brokers and the passport issuing office in Rangoon said Burmese intelligence officers had detained dozens of people suspected of dealing in Burmese passports.

The authorities also reportedly questioned staff at the passport issuing office in Rangoon.

One inside source, as well as a Rangoon-based journalist, told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday that the authorities had cracked down on passport brokers because of the “massive corruption” involved in the trade.

Another Rangoon-based source said, “Many people are leaving country at the moment, and they don’t return. So, the authorities want to restrict it.”

Meanwhile, some reports said the crackdown was linked to the army officers who went into hiding over the “Shwe Mann scandal.” It is thought the wanted officers from Naypyidaw would try to leave the country with passports procured through brokers.

Recently, Burmese intelligence officials reportedly launched a crackdown against the army officers suspected of leaking information and photographs about Gen Shwe Mann’s secret trip to North Korea.

Ten high-ranking Burmese army officers were reportedly arrested for leaking confidential information, and will be court-martialed and could face the death penalty if convicted, said a Burmese intelligence official.

Sources said that four suspected Burmese officials had acquired passports through brokers and had already fled the country. Another two were reportedly arrested while in the process of acquiring passports.

The Irrawaddy could not independently confirm the report.

Some officials suspected of complicity had also gone into hiding, sources in Rangoon said.

The Bangkok-based English-language newspaper The Nation reported recently that several senior Burmese officials and some journalists were sacked some weeks ago after publication of photographs and video footage of secret tunnels in Burma surfaced in the international media. Photographs and video footage of a tunnel construction site in Burma were also published by Burmese media organizations.

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 nations.

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