Security was stepped up in Burma yesterday for the first visit to the country by a South Korean leader since an assassination attempt by North Korean agents in Rangoon almost 30 years ago.
President Lee Myung-Bak arrived in the country for a two-day trip, flying into the capital, Naypyidaw, for a meeting and dinner with President Thein Sein. The trip is being held to discuss developing economic ties between the two countries and support Mr Sein’s recent raft of reforms.
Reports suggest that the president will today visit Rangoon and the Martyrs’ Mausoleum where the then South Korean president Chun Doo-Hwan narrowly escaped an attempt on his life by North Korean agents in 1983. The president was saved from the bomb blast because he was delayed in traffic as he made his way to the event to commemorate Burma’s independence hero Aung San, the father of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. However, 17 South Koreans, including three cabinet ministers, along with four Burmese people, were killed in the blast.
Three North Korean agents were arrested for the attack. One blew himself up while being arrested, a second was hanged in jail and a third died inside Rangoon’s Insein Prison in 2008. Burma’s military junta had enjoyed close links to North Korea, although officials always denied they were seeking to develop a nuclear weapon. Following the 1983 blast, diplomatic ties between the two countries were officially put on hold until 2007.
“[The South Koreans] are very concerned for the security here because of their past experience in our country,” an unidentified Burmese official told the Agence France-Presse ahead of the visit, which was only announced by Seoul a few hours before Mr Lee’s arrival.
South Korea has recently been pushing to invest in Burma. In December 2008, at a time when Aung San Suu Kyi was still under house arrest and hundreds of other political prisoners were behind bars, Burma signed a deal with the South Korean companies Daewoo International and the Korea Gas Corporation, as well as Indian firms, to pipe natural gas from off the western state of Rakhine to China.