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Burma, North Korea Renew Diplomatic Ties


Burma and North Korea have restored diplomatic relations after a break of more than two decades caused by North Korea's bombing of a South Korean delegation in Burma in 1983. As Ron Corben reports the new ties raise concerns among human rights groups that Burma's military will step up purchases of weapons and bypass Western sanctions.

The restoration of diplomatic ties between Burma and North Korea occurred during an official visit to Burma this week by North Korea's vice foreign minister, Kim Yong Il.

Ties had ruptured 24 years ago when North Korea mounted a fatal bombing in the Burmese capital Rangoon that killed more than 20 people. The North's target was a visiting South Korean delegation led by former South Korean President Chun Doo-hwan, and four South Korean ministers were among those killed.

Burma's deputy foreign minister, Kyaw Thu, told reporters the agreement to restore diplomatic links was reached Thursday. Reports said both countries have been working "behind the scenes" to normalize ties in recent years.

Human rights groups fear that Burma's military, one of the largest standing armies in Southeast Asia, will purchase weapons and possibly nuclear technology from North Korea.

Debbie Stothardt, spokesperson for the rights group, Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma, said the renewed diplomatic ties should be of concern for the Association of South East Asian Nations, ASEAN.

"Clearly the military regime of Burma wants to secure ties with other regimes that have fewer qualms about supplying them with weapons - about supplying them with the means of furthering their rule," she said. "This actually should be a cause of concern for ASEAN, for China and India."

China was reported to have welcomed the agreement saying it marked an improvement in relations between Burma and North Korea.

Burma's military, which faces economic and political sanctions from the West over its human rights policies, has sought to widen diplomatic ties elsewhere. In recent years it has successfully parlayed access to its natural resources into growing economic relationships with its neighbors, including Thailand.

It has strengthened links with China, and boosted economic relations with neighbors India and Bangladesh. It has also been looking to boost diplomatic links with Iran and Venezuela.

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