Friday, January 8, 2010

Myanmar issues death sentences for document leaks

YANGON, Myanmar. A Foreign Ministry employee in Myanmar and a retired army officer were sentenced to death for leaking confidential details about a government visit to North Korea last year.

The ruling was issued Thursday by a court inside Myanmar's notorious Insein Prison, according to legal officials who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the case. The case has not been reported by Myanmar's tightly controlled state media. Another Foreign Ministry staffer was sentenced to 15 years in prison on a related offense.

The case was the latest to highlight the junta's sensitivity to criticism and apparent concerns about recent security leaks. Lawyers in Myanmar have interpreted Thursday's ruling as a warning to others against defying the junta.

All three were arrested last year after photographs and documents from a visit to North Korea by the No. 3 junta official, Gen. Thura Shwe Mann, were published on Web sites run by exiled media groups critical of the government. At the meeting, an agreement was reportedly concluded for greatly expanding cooperation to modernize Myanmar's military, including the construction of underground installations. The arrests also followed a separate leak of photographs of a vast tunnel network in Myanmar allegedly built with North Korean help. The photographs were reportedly taken between 2003 and 2006.

Experts believe Myanmar is seeking North Korea's help to establish a nuclear program but is far from acquiring nuclear capacity.

The ruling passed by the Northern Yangon District Court found retired Maj. Win Naing Kyaw and Foreign Ministry clerk Thura Kyaw guilty of violating the Emergency Provisions Act, a wide-ranging security law, and sentenced them to death.

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