YANGON, Myanmar (AP) – Myanmar’s president has confirmed that his country bought weapons from North Korea during the past 20 years and assured his South Korean counterpart that it will no longer do so.
In a meeting with visiting South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, Myanmar President Thein Sein said his country never had nuclear cooperation with North Korea but did have deals for conventional weapons, Lee’s presidential Blue House said in an announcement Tuesday.
Thein Sein told Lee that Myanmar will no longer buy weapons from North Korea, honoring a U.N. ban, South Korean presidential official Kim Tae-hyo told reporters traveling with Lee, according to Blue House officials in Seoul.
Lee is on an official visit to Myanmar, the first by a South Korean president since North Korean commandos staged a bloody 1983 attack on visiting South Korean dignitaries.
Myanmar cut off diplomatic relations with North Korea after the attack, but restored them in 2007 as it sought allies in the face of international sanctions over its human rights record and failure to install a democratic government. Myanmar also began buying weapons from North Korea, and was suspected of obtaining nuclear weapons technology as well.
Myanmar is taking steps to emerge from international isolation after decades of military rule ended last year. Those changes were highlighted Tuesday when Lee met opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who was held for years under house arrest but is now a member of Parliament.
Suu Kyi said after the 45-minute meeting that South Korea and Myanmar have much in common in having had to “take the hard road to democratic leadership.”
Lee, speaking through an interpreter, said he and Suu Kyi had agreed that “democracy, human rights and freedom must never be sacrificed because of development.”
He said he had praised Thein Sein’s contribution to democratization when he met the Myanmar president on Monday.
He also said he told Thein Sein that he hoped his government “will refrain from any activities” with North Korea that could be considered in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions. He described this as a formal request.
A U.N. resolution bars countries from obtaining all but small arms and light weapons from North Korea.
Lee on Tuesday made a brief visit to the site of the 1983 bombing, Martyr’s Mausoleum, a monument to Suu Kyi’s father, Myanmar independence hero Gen. Aung San. The attack left 21 dead, 17 of them South Korean, but failed to kill its target, then-President Chun Doo-hwan, who arrived late and was not harmed.
A statement from Lee’s office said he also agreed to expand South Korean financial assistance to Myanmar.
It said South Korea agreed to help Myanmar develop human resources, build a think tank and invite Myanmar students to South Korea in an effort to share its successful experience in economic development.
Associated Press writer Hyung-jin Kim in Seoul contributed to this report.
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