On the heels of elections this week in Burma, the U.S. Treasury issued a press release this morning adding five new North Korean entities to the Specially Designated Nationals list, two of whom are based in Burma. The most prominent individual to make the list is the DPRK Ambassador to Burma, Kim Sok Chol for acting as a facilitator to the Korean Mining Development Trading Corporation (KOMID). The KOMID Representative in Burma, Kim Kwang Hyok, was also added, as were two other individuals with links to KOMID, Hwang Su Man and Ri Chong Chol, and one company based in Egypt.
For those that may have forgotten, the head of Burma’s Directorate of Defense Industries (DDI), Thein Htay, remains on the SDN list for arms deals with North Korea–presumably through KOMID which facilitates arms sales for North Korea. Several companies in Burma also are sanctioned for facilitating the import of materials to DDI from North Korea.
Last year Jeffrey and I discussed one DDI facility in particular, near Pauk, here and here. One of the things we noticed was that the features of the facility appeared to be almost identical to another DDI facility near Minbu that the US suspects is linked to North Korea.
Transitions to democracy take time. While the Government of Myanmar has made significant reforms, DDI continues to have unsavory dealings with North Korea and can arrange for journalists to be thrown in jail for asking too many questions.
Today’s sanctions on KOMID’s operations in Burma suggest that democracy hasn’t brought an end to DDI’s shenanigans. This is something that we can also see in satellite images. Over the past few years, DDI has constructed or modified at least a dozen other facilities with almost identical signatures to the two featured above. Some of these facilities have not been revealed, although we’re hoping to find funding for a proper mapping of Thein Htay’s DDI empire. When we do, we suspect it will show that the arms trade with North Korea remains vibrant.