Myanmar agrees to free NK defector
NAYPYITAW, Myanmar (Yonhap) --Myanmar has agreed to free a North Korean defector detained in the Southeast Asian nation for illegal border crossing, and promised to comply with a U.N. resolution targeting Pyongyang's nuclear and missile programs, officials said.
The agreement between South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and Myanmar President Thein Sein suggests Myanmar, once lumped by the U.S. as part of an "axis of evil" or "outpost of tyranny" along with North Korea and others, will distance itself from Pyongyang as it opens up to the outside world with democratic reforms.
The defector, a man whose identity was not made available, has been serving a five-year prison term in Myanmar since 2010 for illegally entering the country. Myanmar is expected to set him free in coming days so he can travel to South Korea, officials said.
Myanmar has been suspected of having a nuclear connection with North Korea, but Sein denied any such ties, and said the country will abide by U.N. Security Council Resolution 1874 that bans all weapons exports from the North and any financial support for its nuclear and missile programs, according to senior presidential security aide Kim Tae-hyo.
Further disavowing a nuclear connection with Pyongyang, Sein said Myanmar had once pushed for a project to have two Russian-designed 10-megawatt nuclear reactors for educational purposes, but gave up on it due to international suspicions and the lack of capabilities, he said.
Sein acknowledged Myanmar had arms dealings with the North over the past 20 years. But his pledge to comply with the U.N. resolution is taken as meaning that Myanmar would no longer engage in conventional weapons trade with Pyongyang, Kim said.
Lee is the first South Korean president to visit Myanmar, previously known as Burma, in 29 years since North Korea's 1983 terrorist bombing that ripped through a memorial in Myanmar's old capital of Yangon and killed 17 South Koreans, including Cabinet ministers.
The landmark trip came as Myanmar has won international praise for taking a series of sweeping political and economic reform measures since the country's new government of general-turned-President Sein took power last year after decades of military rule.
In Monday's summit, Lee also offered to expand grants and development loans to Myanmar and carry out a string of programs to share South Korea's economic development experience, such as human resources development and scholarship programs, and helping set up an economic think tank.
The two leaders also agreed to expand cooperation in energy and resources development and infrastructure construction in Myanmar, and to strengthen exchanges and cooperation in sports and cultural areas.
On Tuesday, Lee was to fly to Myanmar's old capital of Yangon for a meeting with the country's democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi. Lee is expected to voice South Korea's support for her campaign to promote human rights and democracy in Myanmar, the presidential office said.
Suu Kyi has been a symbol of Myanmar's democracy movement. Military rulers have repeatedly placed her under house arrest, considering her a threat to their autocratic rule. She spent much of the past 20 years under house arrest and was last released in late 2010.