Chun Doo-Hwan Bombing

Martyrs' Mausoleum Bombing Video (Rangoon - 1983)

      (This is the video and repost of my earlier Chun Doo-Hwan & Kang Ming-Chul post.)

South Korean President Chun Doo-Hwan
October 9 in 1983 didn’t begin like any other normal Sunday in Rangoon. I had to work that day as we had to prepare for a big ministerial meeting for foreign equipment purchases.

I was then working for Burma Irrigation and our office was at 8 ½ mile on Prome Road near the Rangoon Airport. I arrived at the office about eight in that morning and I was in the middle of doing some paperwork when the sonic boom of faint but definitely huge explosion basically alerted me at about 9 or 10 in the morning.

Pondering what the hell that ka-boom of explosion was about I rushed out of office and saw a crowd gathering in the outside corridor. Everyone there agreed the explosion was from a distance and we all then went back to our work as if nothing had happened. Only back in the office I saw the today newspaper ‘The Working People’s Daily’ on a desk and glimpsed the news of South Korean President’s visit on the front page. But honestly I didn’t even vaguely connect the loud explosion with Chun Doo-Hwan the visiting President from South Korea.

But that evening the rumors of his death from the bombing at the Martyrs’ Mausoleum were the talk of the tables at every teashop the popular gathering place for the idle Burmese men. Only then I remembered the faint boom of explosion this morning. The news of the assassination attempt and his lucky survival were in all the newspapers next day. 

And within a couple of days the captures of North Korean Commandos were on the newspaper front pages. And the sorry face of our dictator Ne Win seeing off Chun Doo-Hwan sadly at the Airport was repeatedly broadcasted on the Government-controlled TV. As if our government was deliberately apologizing to the people of South Korea.

Contrary to their usual ways of delaying tactics and secretive styles the newspapers and Radio and TV, all government owned and operated, were amazingly frank and surprisingly prompt in reporting immediately the unfolding events of the bombing and the aftermath. This account is what I still remember and can recall of that tragic events in 1983 together with some material I found from other sources almost 30 years later.

Chun Doo-Hwan’s Visit and the Bombing

Military-ruled Socialist Burma was the first leg of Chun Doo-Hwan’s presidential tour conceived and planned by Chun’s Foreign Minister Lee Beom-Seok. A cornerstone of Lee’s policy was to establish ties between South Korea and the so-called Non-aligned nations and thus Chu Doo-Hwan’s 18 days six nation trip also included India and Sri Lanka. Burma was one of the founding nations of Non-aligned movement.

The ill-fated journey in 1983 October was also designed to burnish Chun's image back home as a true leader for he wasn’t really popular among the people since seizing power by force after the 1979 assassination of President Park Chung-Hee and winning the indirect elections in 1980. The blood of hundreds and hundreds of protesting students slaughtered by his troops in the Kwangju Uprising in 1980 was still fresh in peoples’ memory. Chun really did need a break then.

On that faithful Sunday in quiet Rangoon the presidential motorcade was running a few minutes late for the wreath-laying ceremony at the Martyrs' Mausoleum by the beaming Shwe Dagon Pagoda. The rest of his high-power delegation was already there lining up together with the Burmese hosts in the grand hall of the Mausoleum for his arrival when the ear-splitting explosion ripped through the one-story building and blew up the roof skyward. The ceiling completely collapsed and within few seconds the orderly scene of diplomatic gathering was transformed into bloody mess.  

South Korean Delegation just before the explosion.
The huge blast apparently caused by the bombs hidden in the mausoleum's high ceiling had killed 19 and seriously wounded 48. Among the 16 leading South Korean officials killed there were Seo Seok-Jun the Deputy PM, Lee Bum-Suk the Foreign Minister, Kim Dong-Hwi the Commerce Minister, and  Suh Sang-Chul the Minister of Power resources.
Chun’s motorcade was nearly there on the Mausoleum driveway when the bomb went off. The presidential motorcade was turned away from the Mausoleum gate. The President cut short the journey and flew back to Seoul with his wife that afternoon. He was seen off at the airport by Burmese dictator General Ne Win himself. On the TV footage Ne Win appeared to be apologizing him all the way onto the stairs of his Korean Airforce Boeing.

This translated extract (edited) is from the radio interview given to the "VOA Burmese - Commanders & Soldiers Forum (036) and (037) (November 26, 2010 and December 03, 2010)" by Htun Lin who was then a private serving in Third Platoon of First Company in IB 90 of Burmese Army Rangoon Command.  His battalion then was assigned for the outer security of Presidential delegation in Rangoon.

“Our battalion IB 90 then based in Thanlhyin Town across from Rangoon was responsible for the security of Rangoon. In October the battalion received an order to be standby for the outer security of Chun-Doo-Hwan’s delegation especially for the October 9 wrath-laying ceremony at the Martyrs’ Mausoleum.

We had to move to Rangoon and camped temporarily at the Saya-San Hall in the Kyaiksan Ground and we cleared the routes travelled by Chun-Doo-Hwan’s entourage.

On 9th October we heard the huge explosion while we were having breakfast in our camp. First we didn’t know it was from the Martyrs’ Hill. But it was really loud. Immediately we received the radio message and we climbed onto the trucks and headed for the Martyrs’ Hill.

We saw the carnage at the Mausoleum when we got there. Apparently the bombs were hidden in the ceiling and so the roof collapsed and the heavy I-beams fell down onto the people in the hall below. Many were crushed by the falling I-beams and horribly killed.

What I knew then of the deaths were 4 staff members from the South-Korean Embassy and 13 from the visiting delegation and 4 from the Burmese Foreign Ministry. We stayed there till the nightfall.”

All the army battalions in Rangoon and the neighboring townships were now mobilized and two rifle battalions were heading straight for the large compound of North Korean Embassy within an hour from the time the bombs went off at the Mausoleum.

Siege of the Embassy and Massive Manhunt

Hundreds of armed troops from Third and Fourth Burma Rifles had surrounded the North Korean Embassy compound almost immediately after the bombing and prevented anyone from entering or leaving the huge compound for weeks till the whole bombing thing was unraveled by the army and the intelligence apparatus.

Radio and TV had started broadcasting to keep the people alert and alarm and to look out for the terrorists from possibly North Korea. Thousands of people militia Pyithusit from the villages of the neighboring townships were also mobilized as the largest manhunt in Rangoon history was launched. This translated extract (edited) also is from the radio interview given to the "VOA Burmese - Commanders & Soldiers Forum (037) (December 03, 2010)" by ex-Private Htun Lin of Burmese Army. 

“In the morning of October 10 we were sent to the Rangoon general Hospital for the inner security of North Korean prisoner Major Zin-Mo who was already captured by the Burmese boatmen in the waters of Pazundaung Creek. He was the leader of the commando team and he was then receiving emergency surgery in RGH for his wounds.

Apparently the three men North Korean Commando team was separated into tow teams as they tried to reach the waiting ship in the nearby sea which was only about 20 miles downstream from Rangoon. The boatmen saw Zin-Mo in the water and tried to grab him as the radio was repeatedly alerting the people of Rangoon and nearby townships to watch out for the North Koreans and capture them.

But Major Zin-Mo exploded a couple of hand grenades on his body in an apparent suicide attempt and he badly wounded himself and some of the Burmese boatmen in the process. At 10 in the morning that day we transferred him to the No. (2) Military Hospital (on U Wisara Road by the Cantonment Park).

By then Burmese army had known very well that there were still two North Korean Commandos at large near the area Zin-Mo was captured and concentrated their massive search and capture operation involving the whole local populace on that small area by the Rangoon River.

This translated extract (edited) also is from the radio interview given to the "VOA Burmese - Commanders & Soldiers Forum (037) (December 03, 2010)" by Htun Lin who was then a private serving in Third Platoon of First Company in IB 90 of Burmese Army Rangoon   Command. 

“In the early morning of October 11 we had to report to the No. 1 BOC (Base Operations Command) inside Cantonment Park and we were asked to fall in. Only ten including me was selected as a special commando section and they drove us in a Hino TE21 truck to No. 502 Airbase at Mingaladon. The truck had no roof tarpaulin and we all got really wet as it was raining heavy.

We ten kamikaze had to fall in beside two Huskie helicopters on the runway. Our section leader was Second Lt. Maung Maung Aung. A group of senior officers then arrived. Colonel Myo Nyunt the Deputy CO Rangoon Command, Colonel Nyi Sein the CO BOC (1), Lt. Colonel  Ohn Myint the Battalion CO, and  Captain Kyaw Soe the Battalion IO.

They wrote down our names, PSNs, addresses, parents’ names, and blood groups. They also asked our preferred next-of-kin for our benefits if we were killed. Then Colonel Myo Nyunt gave us the last speech ordering that we must find the enemy, diligently search every inch of the land they were hiding in, and capture them alive to redeem our country’s pride.

He ordered that to get enemy alive not even wounded we must sacrifice our lives if we need to. The enemy must be captured alive. After that they in one Huski and we in the other we flew to the area where the North Koreans were last seen. On the way the Huskies circled the Shwedagon Pagoda three rounds for us.”

VOA Anchor Ronnie Nyein.
What Burmese kamikaze soldiers didn’t know then was the two North Koreans, Captain Zin Kee-Chu and Captain Kang Min-Chul, were already found once and Zin Kee-Chu was killed and Kang Min-Chu had escaped during the struggle in which some of the police and the local people who captured them were killed or wounded. This is what former private Htun Lin said to the interviewer Ex-Lieutenant Thoung Nyein (now Ronnie Nyein of VOA Burmese) who has anchored the Commanders & Soldiers Forumsegment of VOA Burmese.

“Only when we arrived we knew the place was Thakhutpin Village in Kawmhu Township of Rangoon Division. Near the village was a long embankment along the Rangoon River and since the helicopters couldn’t land in the paddy fields or on the embankment we all had to jump down from the hovering Huskies.

We then cleared the village. The enemy was no longer in the village as he’d fled into the paddy fields just outside the village. Only then we were told the whole story.

Two North Koreans had been found wandering just outside the village and the villagers reported them to the police detachment at the village monastery. The policemen chased the two, captured them, and brought them back to their camp.

The two had Burmese-style bag on each of them and the policemen tried to search the bags. The North Koreans pretended to cooperate with the police and Zin Kee-Chu started pulling stuff out of his bag. First a pile of money came out and while the policemen were temporarily distracted by the cash he then pulled out a hand grenade and detonated right there.

Their hand grenades had short 1 second fuses unlike our M-36 hand grenades with the longer 4 seconds fuses. So the explosion was immediate and some policemen and Captain Zin Kee-Chu himself were killed there. Kang Min-Chul escaped with a grenade in one hand and a pistol in other hand into the nearby paddy fields while firing back at the chasers.

The policemen radioed our battalion and now we were there to catch the North Korean Commando.”

By then the whole area had been completely blocked by the navy, army, and Pyithusit the local people militia. Naval gun boats were motoring up and down in the nearby Rangoon River while the airforce helicopters were hovering above. And the wide area of paddy fields by the Rangoon River was completely encircled by the thousands and thousands of armed soldiers and armed people militia.

Encircling was so tight not even a field rat could crawl through the line of armed men standing shoulder to shoulder in the green fields of young paddy.

They could have just shot and killed the lone North Korean now hopelessly trapped but the order coming down from the very top of the army chain of command was absolutely clear. They wanted him alive, not dead. And so the ten Burmese kamikaze soldiers were selected and sent inside the siege-circle to catch Kang Min-Chul alive.

This translated extract (edited) also is from the radio interview given to the"VOA Burmese - Commanders & Soldiers Forum (037) (December 03, 2010)" by ex-private Htun Lin who was then part of the select section of Burmese soldiers sent in to grab Kang Min-Chul alive.

“The day was October 11. We ten went in the rice paddy and trampled every inch of the field and searched for the North Korean the whole day. At dusk we had to stop the search to rest for the night and we resumed the search again at dawn.

It was the early morning of October 12 when we found him. He was hiding in a naturally-formed large ditch draining rain water from the fields into the Rangoon River. He was sitting in the water completely filled with floating water-hyacinths and we found him anyway even though he was out of sight and hard to be seen.

Once we found him in the ditch we ten had to line up abreast on the bank close to him and reported back to the officers waiting behind us. According to our platoon leader Second Lt. Maung Maung Aung the immediate order from Col. Nyi Sein the CO BOC (1) was to wait for the arrival of the elephant gun so that we could shoot him with tranquilizer darts, of course with reduced drugs in it.

So we just waited there for about ten minutes till another order came in again. This time it was direct from Col. Myo Nyunt the Deputy CO Rangoon Command and he ordered us to rush in and manhandle and overpower the North Korean as the army top brass was now waiting by the radio and they were getting real impatient.

So our Cho Oo the most senior private and the deputy section leader ordered the leftmost three men of our line to prepare for the immediate attack. The three were Nyunt Han the married one from the HQ Company, and Than Htwe and Thein Naing the bachelors from our Third Platoon First Company.

They dropped their G3 rifles on the ground and moved up one step ahead towards the North Korean. Cho Oo then clapped once and yelled out ‘Start’. The three shouted ‘Tiger’ aloud and ran to the North Korean who immediately threw a hand grenade at them. With the loud noise of explosion the area was suddenly covered by a huge smoke ball. And as the smoke disappeared in the river breeze we could clearly see our three were dead on the ground.

Then Cho Oo ordered another three to prepare for the second attack. The three now were me, Myo Naing, and another one I can’t recall his name now. We laid down our rifles and stepped forward as the three before us did. When the order to attack came we yelled out ‘Tiger’ aloud and rushed forward.

Luckily the North Korean was already wounded and he had no grenade left in his hands when we jumped him in the swampy waters of the ditch. So we got him alive and breathing.”

Apart from losing his left hand below the elbow and various flesh wounds all over his body caused by the flying shrapnel of his own hand-grenade young Kang Min-Chul had recovered fast from his wounds and ready to be interrogated by the notorious Burmese Military Intelligent Services (MIS) within few weeks.

Kang Min-Chul’s Confession

The leader and the eldest of the North Korean Commandos Major Zin-Mo might be the toughest nut to crack for the Burmese interrogators-cum-torturers of MIS. He had already lost both arms, left leg, and one eye but he wouldn’t open his mouth other than saying his name and rank in the North Korean People’s Army.

No amount and frequency of water-boarding and other brutal tortures could loosen his tongue as he was willing to sacrifice his useless life for his motherland and the Great Leader Kim Il-Sung. He already tried once by blowing himself up when the Burmese boatmen tried to capture him in the waters of Pazundaung Creek.

But the young Kang was a totally different story. On his hospital bed he broke down a few times and cried quietly as if he was emotionally affected by the care he received from the Burmese doctors and nurses. He finally spilled the beans and coughed so much that MIS didn’t even need Zin Mo’s confessions anymore. This is the translated and edited extracts of the summary statement of his confessions to the MIS interrogators.

“My name is Kang Min-Chul and my rank is Captain in the Korean People’s Army of Democratic People republic of Korea. I was born in an unknown small village in theHwanghae province. I belong to the secretive Commando Unit called the Orphan Unit - 124.

It used to be manned exclusively by the orphaned sons of fallen soldiers from the 1950 war. But it is now manned by the young men taken from their home at very early ages. I was taken from my mother at the age of about two and since then I have never seen her again and I also do not remember her name and the name of my home village.

The unit location is a top secret military base in the same Hwanghae province and last 20 years there we were never let out of the base and we have absolutely no contacts with the civilians especially the females. I had never spoken to a female person or been spoken by one in my life before here in Burma.

What we only knew and did before I ended up here were all military discipline and Commando trainings after trainings for our sole mission to assassinate the enemy number one, the President of South Korea.

We three commandos landed in Rangoon from a North Korean cargo ship picking up tons of broken-rice from Rangoon Port. We spent our first few nights here in the house of military attaché in the North Korean Embassy compound. On October 7 we visited the Martyrs’ Mausoleum near that huge golden pagoda to scout the target site. We decided the ceiling was the best place to hide our bombs to cause maximum damage to the visiting delegation from South Korea.

In the night of 8th October 1983 we left the embassy compound and came to the Mausoleum. The security there was non-existence and only a civilian guard was there sleeping in his little guard-house by the gate. The whole area was absolutely deserted and dimly-lit.

We climbed into the narrow space between the high ceiling and the roof. And we placed and wired three large explosive devices with the large quantity of C4 plastic explosives provided by the Attaché. The explosives were there already at the embassy when we arrived as they were delivered in the diplomatic air-pouches.

The devices were placed at about 2 meters apart from each other to cover the whole length of the long hall in front of the marble tombs of General Aung San and his ministers assassinated just after the Second World War. Remote-controlled detonators were fitted and we climbed back down into the hall below.

As we’d decided before we walked up to a small hillock by a large depression at the foot of the Pagoda and waited in the bushes till the morning. From there we could clearly see and observe the Mausoleum entrance and the large square outside the main hall. Most important for us was the site was well within the detonating rang of our radio transmitters.

At about 10 in the morning most of the delegates and their Burmese hosts were there first and then a large black car with motorcycle outriders arrived. When the presidential bugleplayed the Last Post we detonated the bombs but only two worked. Still the damage was done as the middle of the one storey building had collapsed and the huge fire and smoke had covered the site.”

As Burmese had correctly guessed the involvement of North Korean agents and immediately sent two Burma Rifles battalions and quickly sealed the North Korean Embassy on Prome Road the Commando team was forced to abandon their original escape plan of returning to the embassy.

Their Plan B for the escape was another North Korean cargo ship now waiting for them at the area where the Rangoon River meets the sea.  The sea is only about 20 miles from the site and so they started their journey through the gauntlets of Burmese troops and the paramilitaries now quickly mobilized and eagerly searching the areas for them.

Burmese are dark-skinned brown people. So the fair-skinned yellow Koreans stood out in the Burmese crowd. Very soon within few hours in the daylight they were spotted by the public and the mob attacks had followed them wherever they went. And finally they were forced into taking the waterways towards the sea and eventually one was captured dead and other two alive. This is the continuation of Captain Kang Min-Chul’s confession to the Burmese MIS. 

“I was thinking of killing myself when the soldiers were trying to capture me alive. But somehow I couldn’t manage to do that. Then they brought me to the hospital and fixed me real good. I lost only my left hand and it bothers me a bit but I am fine now.

They didn’t torture me or mistreat me in any way. I know the reason was that I opened up and told them everything they wanted to know even about myself. While I was in hospital something completely unexpected happened to me. The nurses were so nice and kind to me that I started realizing there amazingly is more in life than military trainings and drills and assassinations.

I still remember I used to have mother and sisters. I can’t remember their faces but when I see the smiling faces of Burmese nurses caring me and also the kind faces of their matrons I think they remind me of my sisters and my mother. Some goodness is still in me and I do not want to be hateful and aggressive no more.

We were to commit heroic suicides instead of being captured alive and interrogated. Both Major Zin-Mo and Captain Zin Kee-Chu had done exactly that. And I’d had plenty of time and opportunities to do just that but I couldn’t force myself.

Deep inside I still wanted to see my mother again before I die.”

After a secret show trial inside Insein Prison Burmese promptly hanged tight-lipped Major Zin-Mo. But Captain Kang Min-Chul was given only a life sentence. According to the MIS officers handling him our old Ne Win had a strange affection towards the young North Korean and decided to let him live. Ne Win had also refused to send him to South Korea against Chun Doo-Hwan’s repeated demands. 

And so our Kang Min-Chul had lived comfortably almost forever in a specially-built prison inside the infamous Insein Prison in Rangoon till his death.

The Longest Serving Prisoner in Burma

Kang Min-Chul was once the longest-serving prisoner in Burma. He enjoyed the rare privilege of living in a small private house with a tiny garden surrounded by high barbed-wire fence. He learned to speak Burmese fluently and nearly lost his mother tongue. He became a Buddhist and meditated daily. As North Korea had always refused to acknowledge his existence and South Korea would hang him for his terrorist acts he had nowhere else to go but stay in the Burmese prison.

In 2006 Chung Hyung-Keun, a member of South Korea's Grand National Party and a former employee of South Korean intelligence agency KCIA, sponsored a bill to bring Kang Min-Chul to South Korea. South Koreans had finally dropped all their demands to punish Kang Min-Chul many years after his horrible crime. But it was too little too late for the heroic son of both Koreas.

Kang Min-Chul died of liver cancer on May 18, 2008. Hepatitis is so widespread in Burma once one had been to a prison one would get the dreaded liver disease and the painful sclerosis would follow and eventually the fatal liver cancer. He was almost 50 and never married.

On his hospital bed dying he confessed to a caring-nurse that he had never fallen in love but he wanted to so that he knew what love was before he was gone forever. According to the same nurse the last word he murmured before he took his last breath was ‘uh mu ni’ – mother.

May his tortured soul rest in peace!