The Irrawaddy News Magazine [Covering Burma and Southeast Asia]
Kang Nam Could Hold a Message, not just Arms
By YENI Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The mystery voyage of a North Korean ship believed to be carrying arms for Burma could hide an attempt by the Burmese regime to discover just how far the US and its allies would go to carry out the “stop and search” provisions of a new United Nations resolution.

The voyage of the Kang Nam follows the visit to North Korea last November by Burma's third highest ranking general, joint chief-of-staff Thura Shwe Mann, at a time when Burma's isolated regime is desperately searching for the arms and technology to develop its armed forces in the face of an arms embargo by the US and its western allies.

During the visit, high-ranking North Korean military officials showed Shwe Mann various military institutions and camps, according to a secret report obtained recently by The Irrawaddy.

Military analysts have suggested that the North Korean Communist regime has provided Burma with weapons, military technology and expertise in underground tunneling used for concealing military installations in exchange for foodstuffs and agricultural products.

South Korea's intelligence agency believes that the Kang Nam, accused of engaging in illicit trade in the past, is carrying weapons and is sailing towards Rangoon.

A US Navy vessel is shadowing the Kang Nam, and the Burmese generals are sure to be observing very carefully how Washington handles a potential confrontation.

The UN resolution allows the US to challenge the Kang Nam and request an examination of its cargo, but would not permit the Korean ship to be boarded by force.

Although North Korea is highly unlikely to submit the ship to a search, a confrontation on the high seas could afford the Burmese regime with an indication of how Washington would react to Burmese provocations. It could influence the way the regime pushes ahead with its so-called "roadmap to democracy" and deals with the challenges posed by the trial of Aung San Suu Kyi and the current Burmese army assault on the Karen armed opposition.

So far, Burma has been able to count on the continued support of its two UN allies, China and Russia, who can use their veto powers to block any Security Council action against the regime,

A recent visit to China by Burma's second highest ranking general, Maung Aye, appeared to be an attempt to secure a reassurance of Beijing’s continued support.

Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping reminded Maung Aye that Burma was among the first group of countries to forge diplomatic ties with China, and he said the two countries should implement on-going projects to boost their economies. China begins work on a 1,100 km gas and oil pipeline to Burma in September.

Russia’s position became clear on Sunday, when the country’s Foreign Ministry announced that Moscow has rejected the use of political and economic pressure to influence the Burmese regime. According to the news website, www., Russia opposed attempts to internationalize the internal situation in Burma, because it does not endanger peace and security in the region and the world at large.

"We see no reasons why the UN Security Council should discuss Myanmar (Burma)," the statement said.

Knowing that the latest UN resolution is in reality toothless, the Burmese generals have invited UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to visit their country again.

Ban visited Burma after last year's devastating Cyclone Nargis and was instrumental in getting the isolationist government to allow more foreign relief workers into the country. Observers are asking what he can achieve this time. 

Political observers are now speculating that, ignoring global outrage and international diplomatic pressure, the court in Insein Prison will find detained democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi guilty of harboring an American intruder.

A source closed to the Naypyidaw center of power, told The Irrawaddy that Burma's junta leader has already ordered the Insein Prison court to hand Suu Kyi a three-year sentence.

Copyright © 2008 Irrawaddy Publishing Group |