Tight security for S. Korean leader's Myanmar visit

President Lee Myung-Bak arrived in Myanmar Monday on the first visit by a South Korean leader since a North Korean attempt to assassinate one of his predecessors in Yangon almost three decades ago.

Lee flew into the capital Naypyidaw for a meeting and dinner with President Thein Sein, Myanmar officials said, on a two-day trip aimed at promoting economic ties and encouraging the country's recent political reforms.

"The South Korean president and his delegation arrived and they are in Naypyidaw now to meet with the president," a Myanmar government official who did not want to be named told AFP.

On Tuesday Lee is expected to travel to Yangon to visit the Martyrs' Mausoleum, where the then South Korean president Chun Doo-Hwan narrowly escaped an attempt on his life by Pyongyang agents in 1983.

Chun was saved from the bomb blast because he was delayed in traffic on his way to lay a wreath to commemorate Myanmar's independence hero Aung San, the father of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

The explosion killed 17 South Koreans, including three cabinet ministers, and four Myanmar nationals.

Myanmar's past military links to North Korea have come in for international criticism, but the Southeast Asian nation has maintained that it is too poor to acquire nuclear weapons and that it has always abided by UN resolutions.

Security was tight ahead of Lee's visit, which is also expected to include a meeting with Suu Kyi, who was last month elected to parliament for the first time as part of budding political reforms.

The South Koreans "are very concerned for the security here because of their past experience in our country," a Myanmar government official who did not want to be named told AFP ahead of the visit, which was only announced by Seoul a few hours before Lee's arrival.

His office said in a statement that the South Korean leader would discuss expanding cooperation in energy and resources development and other areas during his meeting with former general Thein Sein.

It said the visit was "expected to contribute to attempts by the international community to support Myanmar's recent efforts to open up and reform".

South Korean companies were actively pursuing huge business deals in Myanmar years before political liberalisation, which last year led to the end of decades of outright military rule.

In December 2008 Myanmar signed a deal with South Korean companies Daewoo International and the Korea Gas Corporation, as well as Indian firms, to pipe natural gas from off the western state of Rakhine to China.

The operator of South Korea's stock exchange is also competing with the Tokyo Stock Exchange to open a bourse in the country, which is generating strong interest among international investors.

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