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Foreign ministers talk Korea-Myanmar ties

The foreign ministers of South Korea and Myanmar agreed Wednesday to enhance business and diplomatic ties as Seoul seeks to scale up its presence in the former pariah state following sweeping democratic and economic reforms.

Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan met with his Myanmar counterpart Wunna Maung Lwin and President Thein Sein during the two-day trip. Kim is the first top Korean diplomat to visit the Southeast Asian country in 27 years.

“The two ministers had an in-depth discussion on the state of affairs surrounding Myanmar and the Korean Peninsular, as well as ways to boost personnel exchanges and practical cooperation on trade, investment, development, energy and resources,” the Korean Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Kim made a stop in Thailand before arriving in Myanmar's capital on Tuesday.

Kim is the latest in a series of high profile officials to visit Naypyidaw, following United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, British Prime Minister David Cameron and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Myanmar has opened up to the outside world since its military junta handed over power to a nominally civilian government last year.

In response, the U.S., EU and other world powers also have lifted the bulk of decades-long sanctions on Myanmar. The shift is likely to resuscitate the poverty-stricken economy, courting more development aid and foreign investment in resources exploration, power generation and other infrastructure works.

About 100 Korean firms are currently operating in the Southeast Asian country with a heavy focus on the garment industry, according to the Ministry of Knowledge Economy. Bilateral trade neared $970 million last year, up more than 50 percent from a year before.

Kim’s visit signals a new page in diplomatic relations between the two countries, launched in 1975. The mood turned sour in 1983 when Myanmar severed ties with Pyongyang after a terrorist bombing in Yangon by North Korean agents killed 17 Seoul officials who were accompanying then-President Chun Doo-hwan.

By Shin Hyon-hee (