Burma continues to enjoy a furtive defence relationship with North Korea by using front companies and false flags to ship military cargo from Pyongyang to Rangoon, according to an investigation by NK News published on Wednesday.
The report accuses the Burmese military of endorsing Pyongyang as recently as June, several months after promising Washington that it would sever all defence ties with the Asian pariah.
The general director of the military-run firm Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Than Tun is cited by the state-run North Korean Central New Agency (KNCA) as backing Pyongyang in its fight against the “US imperialists” in an official dispatch dated 23 June.
“We extend full support and firm solidarity to the Korean people in their struggle for building a thriving nation and achieving the reunification of the country under the leadership of the dear respected Kim Jong Un,” Than Tun said, according to KNCA.
“The US imperialists are now trying everything they can to lure Burma away from its alliance with North Korea. But the trade with North Korea is no doubt continuing.”
NK News adds that North Korean ships have been told to be “more discreet” and not fly their own flag when entering Burmese waters, since relations with the west began to warm in 2011. The news group says that cargo ships now use “flags of convenience”, usually from Central American countries, to conceal their passage to Burma.
The report also cites evidence of North Korean vessels disguising under Burmese flags to ship illicit materials into Rangoon, often in exchange for thousands of tonnes of rice. Many of theses transactions are reportedly handled through front companies registered in Singapore or Burma, ostensibly trading “cement” or other commercial goods.
The allegations back previous reports of North Korean vessels being caught flying foreign flags en route to Burma. In June 2011, the US navy intercepted a North Korean naval ship flying the Belize flag on the South China Sea. It was suspected of carrying arms exports and returned to port.
The author of Wednesday’s report and renowned military analyst, Bertil Lintner, suggests that Burma is seeking to obtain advanced missile technology in a bid to establish its vision, or “delusions”, of grandeur. He cites one intelligence source who describes the programme as a “phallic fantasy” intended to boost their annual Armed Forces Day celebrations.
“Just imagine how proud they would be to see a truck towing a big and impressive missile past the grandstand,” the source told Lintner.
Another military source said that neither China nor Russia, who both enjoy military relationships with Burma, would be reliable suppliers of such technology.
Suspicions about Burma’s relationship with Pyongyang have been an ongoing source of tension with the US, which recently vowed to strengthen its military ties with Naypyidaw.
In July, the US slapped sanctions on a senior Burmese general for reportedly purchasing military goods from North Korea, in what has been described by analysts as a warning to the central government.
But Burma has persistently refuted the allegations and denied any knowledge about suspected arms deals. Last week, the quasi-civilian regime agreed to give UN nuclear weapons inspectors full access to sites suspected of being used to develop nuclear technology – another programme linked to Pyongyang – in the latest effort to assuage western concerns about their military ambitions.