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Myanmar Police Are Reportedly Confiscating Copies of 'The Interview' at North Korea's Request

Local media reported that authorities began seizing the pirated DVDs after a meeting with officials and an order from the North Korean embassy.
January 15, 2015, 8:35pm
Photo by Damian Dovarganes/AP

The saga of the controversial comedy The Interview is continuing this week, as authorities in Myanmar are confiscating bootleg copies of the film, reportedly following a request from North Korea's embassy in the country.

According to the local Irrawaddy newspaper, the North Korean embassy in the former Burmese capital of Yangon had pushed for officials in the country to crack down on the distribution of pirated copies of the Seth Rogan-James Franco comedy.

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The plot of the movie centers on a pair of tabloid television journalists' who travel to Pyongyang, tasked by the CIA with the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, who ultimately dies after catching fire in a helicopter explosion during a graphic cinematic scene. But the plot proved controversial, allegedly instigating a cyber attack on the film's distributor Sony Pictures that prompted executives to cancel original plans for the comedy's theatrical debut. Ultimately, Sony released The Interview online and in limited theatrical release in the US on Christmas Day, despite threats from the hackers to attack theaters showing the film.

Irrawaddy's report indicates that the seizures started after the Rangoon division government's chief minister Myint Swe met with North Korea's Ambassador Kim Sok Chol on Sunday. According to Reuters, however, both government police and officials said they had not gotten any orders to confiscate the pirated copies.

"We seized them simply because they were unapproved and pirated," a police officer in Yangon's Latha Township told Reuters.

According to Reuters, the film could not be found in illegal DVD stalls throughout Yangon, with one stall owner gesturing that the movie was banned. One shop owner said North Korean officials from the embassy had stopped in the store to see if any copies were available.

Despite pressure from the US government for Myanmar to sever ties with Pyongyang, the two governments have sustained relations in recent years, even after President Then Kien Sien's regime installed democratic reforms in 2012. Charles K. Armstrong, a history professor at Columbia University, told VICE News that the two countries have had an up-and-down relationship since 1948 — the year that both countries declared their independence — with ties strained after a 1983 incident in which officials in Myanmar — then Burma — arrested North Korean agents in connection with killings of around a dozen South Korean officials in Rangoon.

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"For the next decade, the two countries were sort of sister rogue states on the edge of Asia, both isolated from the West with their economies increasingly dominated by China," Armstrong explained.

But in 2000 the regimes reconnected, officially reestablishing ties in 2007. While pressure from the US on Myanmar to cut ties began as democratic reform took hold, Armstrong said the relationship seems fairly sound. Media reports and leaked documents have also depicted a close military relationship between the two countries.

Pyongyang has taken issue with the plot of The Interview for months. In July, the country's UN ambassador wrote a letter to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon saying that allowing "the production and distribution of such a film on the assassination of an incumbent head of a sovereign state should be regarded as the most undisguised sponsoring of terrorism as well as an act of war."

But the criticism grew louder as the poorly-reviewed movie's December 25 release date got closer. US officials have blamed Pyongyang for the Sony cyber attack in December, with the White House ordering new sanctions in January aimed at North Korean officials.

North Korea Fumes Over 'Hostile' US Sanctions in Response to Sony Hack. Read more here.

Follow Kayla Ruble on Twitter: @RubleKB