When a North Korean Bombing Rocked Yangon

By Wei Yan Aung 9 October 2019

YANGON—On this day 36 years ago, South Korean President Chun Doo-hwan, who was on an official goodwill visit to Myanmar, survived an assassination attempt orchestrated by North Korea at the Martyrs’ Mausoleum in Yangon.

A bomb exploded at the mausoleum, killing 17 South Koreans and four Myanmar people and injuring dozens. The South Korean president survived, however, as he had not yet arrived.

The deputy prime minister and four ministers from South Korea as well as the South Korean ambassador to Myanmar were among the victims. A number of independent and government appointed Myanmar journalists were also killed in the attack.

After the attack, Burma Socialist Programme Party Chairman and military dictator U Ne Win and Myanmar President U San Yu went to the government guesthouse where Chun Doo-hwan was staying and expressed their sorrow for the bombing. The South Korean President cancelled his trip and returned to Seoul within hours after the assassination attempt.

Three suspected bombers were captured: North Korean military Major Zin Mo and Captain Kang Min Chul were captured in the days after the attack and sentenced to death, while Captain Sin Kae Chol was killed before he could be arrested.

Capt. Kang Min Chul pleaded guilty and his death sentence was reduced to imprisonment. He died in prison of liver cancer in May 2008, at the age of 53.

The attack severed diplomatic ties between the Myanmar and North Korean governments; the two countries only reestablished diplomatic ties in 2008.

Following the attack, Myanmar’s head of military intelligence Colonel Aung Ko was dismissed for negligence of duty and was replaced by General Khin Nyunt, who became infamous for his brutal suppression of political dissidents.

Note: The previous version of this story misstated that Kang Min Chul was released and returned to North Korea. 

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