Published on: Friday, June 4, 2010
The Burmese junta’s ambition to become a nuclear power is a threat to regional security, according to a documentary by the Norway-based Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), which alleges that Naypyidaw is developing nuclear weapons and a missiles system with help from North Korea.
Quoting experts and defectors, the documentary, which was aired by Al Jazeera on Friday, said that if the junta achieves its goal, Burmese missiles could target neighboring countries, as well as threatening US military activities in the Indian Ocean.
Burmese army defector Maj Sai Thein Win, who is a missiles expert, said the junta is constructing nuclear and missiles facilities at at least two sites in Magwe and Mandalay divisions in central Burma.
“They [the junta] really want a [nuclear] bomb. That is their main objective,” said Sai Thein Win in the documentary. “They want to have rockets and nuclear warheads.”
Burma's relationship with North Korea is expected to be a hot topic at the 9th Asian Security Summit, also known as the “Shangri-La Dialogue,” which is being held on June 4-6 in Singapore. The US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is scheduled to attend the annual summit along with representatives from 26 countries, including Maj-Gen Aye Myint, the deputy defense minister of Burma. Gates is expected to raise the issue at the summit. Following the latest allegations, Gates’ press secretary said the US is closely monitoring the junta’s cooperation with Pyongyang.
“We are concerned with [Burma’s] growing military ties with the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] and are following it closely to ensure that the multiple UNSCRs [UN Security Council Resolutions] are enforced,” Press Secretary Geoff Morrell reportedly told Agence France-Presse by e-mail. The Security Council resolutions 1718 and 1874 ban all North Korean arms exports.
However, Burmese Minister of Science and Technology U Thaung told a US delegation led by Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell that while acknowledging that the Burmese government had publicly announced its agreement to comply with UN Security Council resolutions, it also has “the duty to maintain and protect national sovereignty.”
Sai Thein Win said the secret project sites for the junta’s weapons are in Myaing, a town in Magwe Division, and Pyin Oo Lwin, also known as Maymyo, which is in Mandalay Division. The projects are under the command of the Directorate of Defense Service Science and Technology Research Center, but also involves U Thaung's Ministry of Science and Technology, said Sai Thein Winn.
Bases on statements from the defector, Robert Kelley, a former director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, told the DVB: “Our analysis leads to only one conclusion: this technology is only for nuclear weapons, and not civilian use or nuclear power.” Sai Thein Win told DVB that two companies in Singapore with German connections sold machinery to Burma’s Department of Technical and Vocational Education, which covers any missiles programs in the country.
Photos which were brought to Thailand by Sai Thein Win show German technicians working at the junta’s sites and even some officials from the Burmese embassy in Germany visiting a machinery-producing factory.
Kelley said in his analysis that although the German machinery was “very expensive and capable, they were sold without all of the accessories to make the ... parts required for many missile and nuclear applications.”
The DVB documentary adds to the growing evidence over the junta’s development of nuclear technology, in particular to a 2009 report by Australian Desmond Ball. Quoting Burmese defectors, Ball said the Burmese armed forces established a “nuclear battalion” in 2000 whose operational base includes an underground complex in the mountains southwest of Naung Laing, near Pyin Oo Lwin, where the regime is reportedly constructing a nuclear reactor.
With North Korea's aid, the reactor in Naung Laing could be completed around 2012, and Burma could develop its first deliverable nuclear weapons by 2020, he said in the report.