October 9, 1983: Bombing in Burma

North Korean agents were blamed for a 1983 bombing targeting the visiting South Korean President to Burma in which 21 people died.

North Korea may pose the biggest threat because of its nuclear program but it has also carried out terrorist attacks.

(NB this attack took place when the capital of Burma, as it was called then, was known as Rangoon: today the country is called Myanmar and the capital Yangon)

RANGOON, BURMA — There are lots of things for which the hermit kingdom of North Korean is famous (or, better, infamous). Wacky leaders, all of whom are from the same family. Brutal treatment of its own people. Bizarre propaganda. And nukes of course.

The fact that this unstable leadership appears to have ‘the bomb’ is not a good thing. Nuclear weapons are dangerous at the best of times but that much more worrisome when the guy with his finger on the button is a nutjob. There are lots of reasons to lose sleep over this, much more so than during the Cold War when the adversaries were at least rational.

North Korea has also been behind a series of attacks on its southern neighbour (the ‘other’ Korea). Amphibious landings. Kidnappings. The list is a long one.

And it includes terrorism.

On this day in 1983

On this day in 1983 a bomb went off in Rangoon, coinciding with the visit by the South Korean President, Chun doo-Hwan. In all, 21 people were killed and 46 wounded. The president escaped unscathed as his motorcade had been delayed.

No one claimed the attack immediately but suspicion fell immediately on North Korea:

I cannot control the raging anger and the bitter grief at this atrocity. We will not be the only ones to point to the North Korea Communists, the most inhumane group of people on earth, as the perpetrators of the brutal crime to harm me as the head of state of the republic.

President Chun

The blast could be heard a mile away. Witnesses told of seeing huge plumes of smoke rise from the Martyrs’ Mausoleum and of watching as people ran frantically from the site, some with bloodstains on their shirts. The dead included President Chun’s most important economic and foreign- affairs advisers as well as the South Korean Ambassador to Burma.

This was not the last time that North Korean sought to strike its much more prosperous – and successful – neighbour. And as long as the Kims are in control we should expect more.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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