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North Korea and Burma: tunnel buddies

Run by elusive tyrants? Check.

Reviled by the West? Check.

Propped up by China? Check.

Really, how could Burma and North Korea not get along? They even share the same taste in dated, highly starched uniforms. (Though North Korea arguably has nicer hats.)

Well, get this. Among North Korea's fields of expertise — notably cigarette smuggling, nuclear secret swapping and counterfeiting — the isolated backwater possesses a lesser-known skill. They're experienced in digging extensive tunnel hideouts for military leaders. And Burma's junta is buying.

This is the latest from journalist Bertil Lintner, among the most authoritative voices on Burma. His latest piece, Tunnels, Guns and Kimchi, asserts that North Korean technicians are building an elaborate tunnel network to help Burmese leaders withstand domestic or foreign attacks.

The how-to of tunneling comes from experience, as much of North Korea's defense industry lies beneath deep, bomb-resistant bunkers.

Lintner even suggests the tunnels could be linked to the Burmese junta's wish to acquire nuclear material. This is a red-alert nightmare scenario and there's no smoking gun evidence to substantiate that fear. (Still, if you're prone to panic attacks, don't read this.)

Historical side note: Burma hated North Korea's guts after a bizarre 1983 assassination attempt against the South Korean president on Burmese soil. During an official South Korean visit to the Burmese capital, Rangoon, North Korean spies set off explosives in an attempt to wipe out South Korea's president. They failed, but ended up killing more than 20 people, including several South Korean government ministers.

But Burma and North Korea just couldn't stay mad at each other. Relations were repaired in the 1990s. And now, according to Lintner's report, Burma's leaders are quite jealous of North Korea's leadership for standing up to the United States.

There you have this report's other surprise revelation. Someone out there actually looks up to Kim Jong Il.