WASHINGTON — The United States imposed sanctions Tuesday on a Burmese general who it says violated a UN Security Council ban on buying military goods from North Korea despite Burma’s assurances it has severed such ties.
Lt-Gen Thein Htay is the head of the Directorate of Defense Industries, which the United States designated for sanctions a year ago, saying the organization has carried out missile research and development and used North Korean experts.
The latest US action does not target Burma’s reformist government, which has continued to take positive steps in severing military ties with the North, the Treasury said. That has been a key goal of the Obama administration’s engagement with the government of President Thein Sein, who has introduced democratic changes after decades of authoritarian rule that had led to international isolation.
Washington says the arms trade provides Pyongyang with revenue for its nuclear and missile programs that threatens the United States and its allies. North Korea has conducted long-range rocket and atomic tests in the past year that have deepened concerns about its weapons’ capabilities.
In response to Burma’s reforms, the United States has eased its longstanding restrictions on trade and investment in the impoverished Southeast Asian country but it still enforces targeted sanctions against individuals it considers to be bad actors.
“Thein Htay has disregarded international requirements to stop purchasing military goods from North Korea, the revenues from which directly support North Korea’s illicit activities,” Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David S. Cohen said in a statement, without specifying the goods that were purchased.
Thein Htay took part in a secret visit by top Burma military officials to North Korea in late 2008. They visited military facilities, and according to the US State Department, signed a memorandum of understanding with North Korea to provide assistance to Burma to build medium range, liquid-fueled ballistic missiles.
It is unclear what kind of military hardware and know-how Burma has actually obtained from North Korea. The leader of the 2008 mission, then-junta No. 3, Shwe Mann, has since renounced the military trade with the North. Tuesday’s action, however, reflects US concerns that Thein Htay has allowed it continue.
Shwe Mann, who is now speaker of the lower house of Parliament and is considered an advocate of democratic reform, was taken off the US sanctions list last September. As chief of Burma’s ruling party, he has cooperated with opposition leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.
Shwe Mann told The Associated Press during a visit to Washington last month that Burma’s arms trade with North Korea has stopped.
“If there’s any information that we hear on this matter we will continue to take actions as required. Because our country, like others, will abide by the resolutions of the United Nations Security Council,” he said. “We are not neglecting this matter.”