BurmaNet News, June 11, 2010
editor at burmanet.org
Fri Jun 11 15:23:16 EDT 2010
June 11, 2010, Issue #3981
Irrawaddy: Suu Kyi says Burmese have right not to vote
Reuters: Myanmar denies nuclear plans, North Korean help
Khonumthung News: Junta woos people in Chin state with development work
ON THE BORDER
Irrawaddy: Cholera cases rising in Mae La refugee camp
Narinjara: Census of illegal Burmese nationals in Bangladesh
BUSINESS / TRADE
Mizzima News: Mon party to push for free market, development
The Washington Times: Obama asked to name envoy to secretive Myanmar;
Regime reportedly trying to build a nuke
OPINION / OTHER
Huffington Post: Oil companies financing nuclear threat in Burma, refusing
transparency Matthew Smith
Irrawaddy: Webb's mission a lost cause? Aung Zaw
DVB: Nuclear Burma and a new axis? Francis Wade
Economist: Secrets will out
Nation (Thailand): Can we ignore rumours of a nuclear Burma? Editorial
June 11, Irrawaddy
Suu Kyi says Burmese have right not to vote - Ba Kaung
Burmese people have the right not to vote in the upcoming election,
detained Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi told her lawyer on
Friday. She also commented on US Sen. Jim Webb's support of the election.
Daw Suu said that just as the people have the right to vote, they also
have the right not to vote, Suu Kyi's lawyer Nyan Win told The Irrawaddy
shortly after meeting with her on Friday afternoon.
Although her comment seems to allude to the possibility that she and her
now-disbanded National League for Democracy (NLD) may call for a boycott
of the planned election, Nyan Win declined to elaborate on her comment.
During a two-hour meeting that focused on legal issues relating to repairs
to her home, Suu Kyi also said that she believed Webb's views on the
election were his personal opinion only, and did not reflect his official
position as chairman of the East Asian and Pacific Affairs Subcommittee of
the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.
Webb, a strong advocate of US engagement with the Burmese regime, canceled
his scheduled visit to Burma earlier this month amid fresh reports that
junta was trying to develop nuclear weapons.
On Wednesday, the Democratic lawmaker called for support of Burma's
election, saying it was a step forward and that the junta would allow at
least some opposition figures to stand for seats.
Nyan Win also said that Suu Kyi heard about Burma's alleged nuclear
program, but she did not wish to make any comment on the issue at this
point, as there was not enough information available.
Suu Kyi decided against her party re-registering under the regime's
unjust election laws. The NLD was dissolved in May for its failure to
meet the regime's party registration deadline.
June 11, Reuters
Myanmar denies nuclear plans, North Korean help
Yangon Myanmar has no ambition to become a nuclear power and reports
that it is developing a nuclear programme with North Korean help are
groundless, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement read on state
television on Friday.
Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), a Norwegian-based exile group opposed to
Myanmar's military regime, said in a report last week Myanmar was trying
to develop a secret nuclear programme with the intention of making an
Accounts of suspected nuclear plans surfaced last year, but Myanmar has
never confirmed or denied any nuclear ambitions. Some reports have
suggested it had enlisted the help of nuclear-armed North Korea.
In a first reaction to the latest such reports, the Foreign Ministry
accused dissidents of spreading false information, suggesting this might
be an effort to scupper efforts by the United States in recent months to
engage with the military regime.
"In the past few days, some international media reported the accusations
that Myanmar is making attempts to develop a nuclear project with the
intention of having nuclear weapons in cooperation with North Korea," the
Foreign Ministry said.
"These are merely groundless and politically motivated accusations," it
said, adding the claims were also aimed at disrupting the government's
plans to hold elections later this year.
It said Myanmar once had a plan to build a 10-megawatt reactor for
peaceful purposes with the assistance of Russia, but that was abandoned.
The ministry denied Myanmar had purchased weapons from North Korea. It had
only imported cement from North Korea while North Korea had imported rice
from Myanmar, it said.
DVB said that its five-year investigation showed that Myanmar, formerly
Burma, was a long way from producing a nuclear weapon but had gone to
great lengths to acquire the technology and expertise to do so. (Reporting
by Aung Hla Tun; Editing by Alan Raybould and Sanjeev Miglani)
June 11, Khonumthung News
Junta woos people in Chin state with development work
11 June 2010: With the general elections in Burma round the corner, the
Burmese military junta is going all out to woo the electorate. It is now
increasingly getting involved in development work, which it has been
ignoring for years. The regime is now constructing bridges, building
drains and other public utility services in Hakha town, Chin state western
The municipal body has constructed a bridge 20 feet long and 6 feet wide
in Nazareth block in Hakha town in early June. The government spent Kyat
20 lakhs for the construction, said an elder in the town.
Besides, the civic body is building roads and sewerage facilities and
carrying out repairs on public utility facilities in the blocks of Kesik,
Chin O Si, Pyitawta and Kyawpouh.
Though the public is happy with the work undertaken by the government,
they believe that they are being wooed for votes for the forthcoming 2010
We cannot guarantee voting for the political parties backed by the regime
though it is good the junta is into developmental works. However, we are
afraid it can hinder our freedom later, a local told Khonumthung News.
A person on condition of anonymity in Chin O Si block also said, Though
it is good for our block but we do not trust the junta. It will exploit us
after such work.
In connection with the development work some people believe that the Chin
Tactical Commander Mr. Hung Ngai, who is a Buddhist and had contributed
money to three churches in Chin state, is likely wooing people for votes.
The junta has already transformed the Union Solidarity and Development
Association (USDA) into a political party to contest the general election
ON THE BORDER
June 11, Irrawaddy
Cholera cases rising in Mae La refugee camp Kyaw Thein Kha
Eighty-nine refugees in Mae La Refugee Camp have been infected with
cholera in two weeks and the number of cases is increasing, a source in
Mae La Refugee Camp said on Friday. No deaths have been reported.
Since May 27, 87 refugees have been infected, and today another two
patients arrived at the hospital, said Saw Nay Hsei, a health care
coordinator at the Mae La Camp Hospital. The disease is concentrated in
three areas of the camp.
Students walk in Mae La camp, near the Thai-Burmese border in Mae Sot
district, Tak province, 600 km (373 miles) north of Bangkok. (Photo:
Seventy-two patients had been discharged from the hospital as of Thursday
and 15 patients remain in the Cholera Treatment Center (CTC), he said.
Most of the patients were infected with the virus by drinking water
collected from local wells and streams.
The water we distribute to refugees in the camp doesn't have the virus
that causes cholera. But, there are other wells in the camp. We found
cholera virus in the water of these wells, said Saw Nay Hsei.
He said an education campaign has started covering infected patients and
neighbors, explainging how cholera is contracted, proper medicine, and the
role of water and hygienic food.
Restaurants and food vendors in the camp have been banned until
authorities can ensure that sites are hygienic and proper procedures are
put in place.
Mae La is the largest of seven refugee camps along the Thai-Burma border
where nearly 40, 000 refugees live. Most of the refugees in Mae La Camp
According to the Mae La Camp Hospital, 28 people were infected by cholera
June 11, Narinjara
Census of illegal Burmese nationals in Bangladesh
Teknaf: The Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) is currently compiling a list of
illegal Burmese nationals living in the country's eastern border township
to determine their number, said a local source.
The BDR Battalion 42 in Teknaf has undertaken a census of illegal Burmese
nationals living in Teknaf Township, opposite Burma's western border town
Maungdaw, the source said.
A BDR source said, the border authorities pushed 2,022 Burmese nationals,
mostly Rohingya, back to Burma between January and May this year. However,
the influx of Burmese nationals continues into Bangladesh despite BDR's
efforts to arrest and repatriate them.
Lieutenant Colonel Mozammel Hossain, Commanding Officer of BDR Battalion
42, told this correspondent recently that Burmese from Arakan State have
been illegally crossing the Bangladesh border during the last few years,
adding that BDR had begun preparing a list of illegal immigrants in Teknaf
He also said that Burmese, living illegally in Teknaf and surrounding
areas are involved with gangs, rioting, and grabbing land. The list of
names of Burmese living in the area without documentation will be sent to
BDR headquarters for further instructions.
Bangladesh authorities believe that many Burmese, mostly Rohingyas, are
living illegally in Bangladesh in Chittagong, Bandarban, and Cox's Bazaar
Districts. They crossed into Bangladesh through the border with Arakan
over the last 20 years.
According to the refugee repatriation committee in Cox's Bazaar, a total
of 28,000 out of 250,667 Burmese nationals have been waiting to return to
their homeland from Kutupalong and Nayapara refugee camps in Ukiah and
Teknaf in Cox's Bazaar since 1992.
BUSINESS / TRADE
June 11, Mizzima News
Mon party to push for free market, development Phanida
Chiang Mai All Mon Region Democracy Party chairman Nai Ngwe Thein said
that in parliament it would demand a free-market economy and industrial
development with foreign investment.
Observers say the party is guaranteed seats as it is the only Mon party in
the state and it will only contest constituencies inhabited by the Mon
ethnic group. But they add however that per-parliamentarian monetary
limits could work against the partys building much of a mandate.
We will strive for an appropriate free-market economy, attracting more
foreign investment in the country and developing modes of production with
modern technology, Nai Ngwe Thein told Mizzima. We can able to develop
our country only if we can achieve industrial development.
He said the economy of the state was such that people could survive on
agriculture and rubber plantations for their livelihood but inter-regional
and intra-state trading in was so poor so that many people had sought
In Mon State, agriculture, rubber plantations and [other] cash crops are
good but trade is so poor so that many people leave to find work in other
countries, he said. We [members of parliament] will demand a free-market
economy in our country.
Nai Ngwe Thein career has included postings as former assistant Mon State
education officer, Kachin State and Pegu Division education officer and
basic education department for Upper Burma administrative director.
The partys vice-chairman is Nai Hla Aung. Its main objectives for the
country are: complete restoration of democratic and human rights in the
country; solid ethnic unity based on equality and the right of
self-determination; genuine multiparty democracy and democratic systems in
Moreover party members will strive to: establish and perpetuate a genuine
Union, eradicate corruption and bribery; work for social development and
build a peaceful world social order, party sources said.
The party will contest in areas mostly inhabited by Mon people such as 10
townships in Mon State, two townships in Karen State, one township in
Tanintharyi Division, one township in Pegu Division totaling 15 townships.
Currently 53 candidates were shortlisted for the upcoming general
elections but party sources said it was yet to be decided how many
candidates would stand.
Most members were former government employees or former New Mon State
Party (NMSP) members, and almost all are ethnic Mon, the party said.
The minimum party membership requirement at the national level is 1,000 so
the party has been electioneering in Ye and Thanphyu Zayat townships since
early this month by presenting their party policies and intended
Local military intelligence personnel were reportedly monitoring the
partys campaigning and questioning its canvassers.
As it is the sole ethnic Mon party in Mon State, Nai Ngwe Thein firmly
believed the people were attracted much interested in a party comprising
Political observers speculated that former NMSP central executive
committee members Nai Chan Twe and two central committee members who
recently resigned from their posts would join the AMRDP.
If these former NMSP leaders could accept the AMRDP platform they might
join the party by resigning from their party, Nai Ngwe Thein said. But
sources said they have not yet approached the new Mon party.
A total 42 political parties have applied for party registration and
re-registration with the Union Election Commission as of June 8. Out of
those, 37 parties have been allowed to form and five parties successful in
the 1990 general election have been allowed to be re-registered. The
remaining five parties have yet to receive such permission from the
June 11, The Washington Times
Obama asked to name envoy to secretive Myanmar; Regime reportedly trying
to build a nuke Ashish Kumar Sen
President Obama has yet to appoint a special envoy for Myanmar, whose
military-ruled regime reportedly is trying to build a nuclear weapon and
plans to hold what U.S. lawmakers see as a flawed election this year.
U.S. officials have expressed disappointment with these developments, and
members of Congress and activists say the appointment of a U.S. policy
coordinator is key to holding the junta accountable for its bad behavior.
Currently, Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, is part of the foreign policy
portfolio of Kurt Campbell, assistant secretary of state for East Asian
and Pacific affairs.
"Kurt Campbell has been very attentive to Burma, but he has a lot on his
plate. We need someone who makes Burma their first priority," said
Jennifer Quigley, advocacy director for the U.S. Campaign for Burma. "For
us, 2010 is an incredibly critical year in Burma and it makes it that much
more important to have a special policy coordinator."
In a June 8 letter to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Sen. Jim
Webb recommended Eric John, U.S. ambassador to Thailand, for the special
"Ambassador John has spent many years in East Asia, and has long
experience in dealing with the North Korean regime on issues that might be
similar to those we will be facing in Burma," wrote Mr. Webb, Virginia
Democrat who recently canceled a trip to Myanmar over reports that the
junta was trying to build a nuclear weapon.
The Tom Lantos Block Burmese JADE Act, which was signed into law by
President George W. Bush in 2008, requires the president to appoint a
"special representative and policy coordinator" for Myanmar.
Mr. Bush nominated Michael Green, a former senior director for Asian
affairs at the National Security Council, to the position in November
2008, but the Senate didn't get around to confirming him.
A bipartisan group of nine U.S. senators wrote to Mr. Obama on March 26,
urging him to nominate someone to the position. They said there was "both
an urgent policy need and an unambiguous legal requirement for this
position to be filled."
In response to the letter, National Security Adviser James L. Jones wrote
that the administration was in the process of nominating someone to fill
the position. That letter was sent in April.
"The naming of a special representative and policy coordinator for Burma
... is a priority for the administration," said Ben Chang, deputy
spokesman for the National Security Council.
The State Department reportedly has sent a list of potential nominees to
the White House. However, U.S. officials are being tight-lipped about who
is on that list.
In Myanmar, election laws laid down by the junta ensured that the main
opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), was left with
no choice but to drop out.
Ms. Quigley said a special envoy should focus on implementing the rest of
the provisions of the JADE Act, including imposing banking sanctions on
the regime in Myanmar.
The envoy also must work with Myanmar's neighbors to ensure they are all
on the same page as the U.S. when it comes to sanctions, criticism of the
election and investigations of crimes committed by the junta against
ethnic minorities, she said.
Members of Myanmar's democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi's NLD also want an
envoy in place soon.
Nyo Ohn Myint, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the NLD
(Liberated Area), said in an interview from Thailand that the "U.S.
government has to bring a special envoy and its clear mission and
Jared Genser, Mrs. Suu Kyi's international counsel, said he hoped the
Obama administration would appoint a special envoy "as soon as possible."
Mrs. Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, has been kept under house
arrest for 14 of the past 20 years.
OPINION / OTHER
June 11, Huffington Post
Oil companies financing nuclear threat in Burma, refusing transparency
The world has a new nuclear threat on its hands; the first ever in
According to a disturbing five-year study released Friday by the
Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), carried on Al Jazeera, and vetted by a
nuclear scientist and former director of the International Atomic Energy
Agency (IAEA), the ruling military junta in Burma (Myanmar) is "mining
uranium, converting it to uranium compounds for reactors and bombs, and is
trying to build a reactor and or an enrichment plant that could only be
useful for a bomb."
This follows a UN report leaked last month claiming North Korea is
exporting nuclear and ballistic missile technology to Burma using
intermediaries, shell companies, and overseas criminal networks designed
to circumvent UN sanctions against Pyongyang.
A key question underlies the scandal: how could Burma, Southeast Asia's
poorest country, possibly afford to finance a nuclear program?
The answer involves the military regime's partnerships with multinational
companies, including some of the world's largest and best known oil firms
from the US, France, Japan, China, India, Thailand and elsewhere.
In 2009, my colleagues and I at EarthRights International (ERI) calculated
that the Yadana natural gas pipeline -- operated by the French oil giant
Total, with the American company Chevron, and the Thai company PTTEP --
has generated nearly $8 billion dollars in gas sales since payments
commenced just a decade ago. Transporting Burmese natural gas from the
Andaman Sea across Burma to neighboring Thailand, ERI estimated that from
2000-2008, billions of dollars of that revenue went directly to Burma's
ruling junta, a claim the companies have never denied.
Compounding the junta's notoriously low domestic spending on health and
education, in 2009 we also documented that portions of the country's gas
dollars found their way into private offshore bank accounts in Singapore,
from where the money could be spent on any number of things, including
perhaps nuclear technology.
According to a defected senior junta member interviewed by DVB in the
documentary that aired on Aljazeera last week, "when [the regime] got that
[gas] money, they started the nuclear project."
(This is to say nothing of the ongoing instances of forced labor, rape,
torture, killings and other abuses we continue to document against local
people in direct connection to the companies' pipeline).
Earlier this year, we traveled to Bangkok to launch an international
campaign urging Total, Chevron, and PTTEP to practice complete revenue
transparency in Burma and to publish all the data surrounding their last
18 years of payments to the Burmese regime. The campaign is backed by over
160 world leaders, NGOs, unions, scholars, and investment firms, including
global leaders like Mary Robinson, Kjell Magne Bondevik, and Kerry
Kennedy. It occurred to us that only a monumental degree of intransigence
from the companies would lead them to deny the reasonable request for
transparency from such a diverse and powerful coalition -- but that's
exactly what happened.
About two weeks ago, Total and Chevron released statements effectively
saying they had no plans to practice revenue transparency in Burma and no
plans to cooperate with the initiative. Had they cooperated, they would
have been the first ever companies to practice revenue transparency in the
notoriously repressive country.
Curiously, however, the companies cited different reasons for their
secrecy. Chevron claimed they're contractually restricted from publishing
their payments, while Total implied simply that the regime didn't want
them to practice transparency.
Chevron's argument -- that its "contractual obligations related to the
Yadana Project do not permit disclosure of payments or other confidential
information relative to the Project" -- is simply inconsistent with the
company's actual contracts with the junta, which Unocal (now Chevron)
disclosed during the partial trial in the human rights suit Doe v. Unocal
Corp. In those contracts, there's nothing that would prevent revenue
transparency. Moreover, Unocal also chose to disclose dozens of actual
payment records to the junta -- records that were introduced at trial as
part of Unocal's defense -- without suggesting that their defense was
hampered by contracts that required confidentiality. So unless the
relevant contracts have changed significantly, or unless Unocal violated
court orders in Doe v. Unocal and withheld key documents, Chevron appears
to be misleading the public and its shareholders about its contractual
obligations in Burma.
Total's markedly different tack is equally concerning. While privately the
companies claim the same contractual restrictions as Chevron, now publicly
they simply imply, in exceedingly vague terms, that the Burmese
authorities might be averse to their transparency ("Total cannot disclose
any financial or contractual information if the host country is opposed to
Either way, it appears both Chevron and Total would simply prefer to hide
their payments to the world's newest nuclear threat.
Which raises the question: Just how real is the nuclear threat?
The story surfaced in 2009 after a two-year investigation by notable
author and journalist Phil Thornton and prominent Australian National
University scholar Desmond Ball. Drawing on radio intercepts and a series
of interviews with key defectors from Burma, the duo demonstrated that the
uncomfortable rumors circulating through intelligence communities were
credible: Burma's nuclear intent is real. Their conclusion was that if all
accounts surrounding Burma's clandestine program were true, the regime
would eventually be able to arm itself with nuclear warheads.
Any existing doubts are now fading fast. The DVB report released last week
reflects thousands of top secret internal documents and photographs
smuggled out of the closed country by a senior defector from Burma's
military ranks. The evidence is clear and damning. Not only is the
xenophobic regime constructing an intricate tunnel system throughout the
country at exorbitant costs and with the help of North Korea, but it's
also developing long-range missiles and nuclear technologies that would
only be used for weapons.
The current president of the IAEA Yikiya Amano claims that the UN watchdog
group is now looking into the reports and if necessary will seek some
clarifications from the junta, and Ban Ki Moon's Special Advisor on Burma
just arrived in Singapore for talks with the authorities there about the
situation in the country.
A principal concern is that if Burma is capable of long range missile
strikes and weapons of mass destruction, the security dynamic in Asia will
alter significantly, from India to China and beyond. It would be hard to
imagine such a necessary shift in governments' priorities could ever
benefit the region's least advantaged citizens, let alone the people of
Perhaps now that the geopolitical stakes are higher, Total and Chevron can
finally be persuaded to start practicing disaggregated revenue
transparency in the country. At this point, it'll be difficult to
interpret their continued secrecy as anything but nefarious.
June 11, Irrawaddy
Webb's mission a lost cause? Aung Zaw
US Sen. Jim Webb is back in the news again, after he abruptly called off a
planned visit to Burma last week when he learned about reports that
appeared to confirm that Southeast Asia's most reclusive regime was
pursuing an advanced weapons program with North Korean assistance.
Soon after returning to the US from Bangkok, Webb dashed off a letter to
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asking the State Department to clarify
allegations of Burma's nuclear ambitions. He also urged the Obama
administration to appoint a special envoy to Burma.
Aung Zaw is founder and editor of the Irrawaddy magazine. He can be
reached at aungzaw at irrawaddy.org.
It is curious that Webb, who has been Washington's self-appointed point
man on Burma since last year's John Yettaw fiasco, is looking to the State
Department for clarification about the Burmese weapons program. One would
think that he would use his vaunted access to the regime's senior
leadership to get a better idea of what the generals are up to.
As for the appointment of a special envoy to Burma (something that was
first proposed under the 2008 Tom Lantos Block Burmese JADE Act), Webb
reportedly wants Eric John, the current US ambassador to Thailand, for the
job. But John declined to comment on the matter, saying that it was
something for the administration to decide. A State Department official
said that a choice would be made soon, but gave no indication of how
While the weapons allegations have been a serious setback for the
engagement camp, which until recently appeared to be gaining the upper
hand in the debate over how to deal with the Burmese junta, it is not
likely to deter Webb and others of like mind.
Indeed, with an election just around the corner (Webb figures it will take
place on Oct. 10, although at this stage, it is still anybody's guess) and
with Naypyidaw and Beijing taking their relationship to the strategic
level, some in the US feel that Washington must act quickly to get its
foot in the door before Burma is lost for good.
Appointing a special envoy would be a major step in that direction,
although it would be a mistake to make an appointment without first
working out a proper strategy that addresses more than just the issue of
Meanwhile, Webb must do some damage control to deal with the fallout from
new evidence that the regime has purchased arms from North Korea in
violation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1874.
In his letter to Clinton, Webb acknowledged that the recent revelations
make engagement with the regime much more difficult: This allegation,
which from my understanding has yet to be publicly clarified and
substantiated by the State Department, has frozen any prospect of further
engagement with the Burmese government.
In an apparent effort to mitigate the impact of this allegation, Webb also
pointed out that, according to Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Scot
Marciel, no other nation has joined the United States in publicly
denouncing Burma on this matter.
At a congressional hearing, Marciel testified that the State Department
was investigating whether there is some kind of serious nuclear program
in Burma, which certainly would be tremendously destabilizing to the
entire region, and also the Burmese acquisition of other military
equipmentconventionalwhich also can affect regional stability.
Some analysts say that Webb is taking advantage of the State Department's
slowness and lack of diligence in addressing these issues to forge ahead
with his own agenda, which is to normalize relations with Burma, both to
counter China's growing influence in the country and to pave the way for
But the junta's suspicious activities are not the only barrier to greater
US engagement. Webb must also contend with skepticism from Burma's
democracy movement, both inside and outside the country.
In a commentary published by The Irrawaddy following Webb's first visit to
Burma last August, U Pyinya Zawta, a Buddhist monk who played a leading
role in the 2007 Saffron Revolution, criticized the senator's ignorance
of the situation in my country, citing a passage in his book, A Time to
in which he appeared to dismiss the importance of this mass uprising
against military rule.
If Westerners had remained in the country this moment might never have
occurred, because it is entirely possible that conditions may have
improved rather than deteriorated, Webb wrote in his book.
Like many Burmese democracy activists, U Pyinya Zawta took issue with
Webb's assumption that a Western presence in Burma would somehow deliver
the country from the worst effects of military rule.
But while Webb seems to regard the efforts of Burma's own people to
liberate themselves from their brutal rulers as an exercise in futility,
he may now be learning that his own quixotic mission to save the country
from itself is falling victim to the lies and intransigence of a regime
that can't be trusted.
June 11, Democratic Voice Burma
Nuclear Burma and a new axis? Francis Wade
One evening in late November 2006, workers at a port south of Rangoon were
greeted by the sight of a North Korean cargo vessel approaching; several
hours earlier the boat had put in a distress call to Rangoon claiming it
had encountered technical problems, and was allowed to drop anchor. An
inspection by Burmese authorities found no suspicious material or
military equipment on board, and the boat was patched up and sent back
out to sea. The incident was kept under wraps and garnered little
attention in the media, for the two pariahs had only just resolved a
23-year feud that saw them freeze diplomatic ties, and relations were
still icy; it was a tentative first toast to the renewed friendship, a
courtesy act by Burma.
But seven months later, on 21 May 2007, a second North Korean vessel, the
Kang Nam 1, put in a similar distress call as it navigated the Andaman Sea
close to Burmas southern coast, and Thilawa port, 20 miles south of
Rangoon, opened its doors. Exactly what was onboard the Kang Nam 1 that
day in May 2007 has remained a mystery, but the port-call was one of the
first indicators of an alliance that has brought much of the Western
world, and several regional players, standing to attention.
The two countries are perhaps the worlds most secretive; alarmingly
little is known of life inside the borders of the DPRK, while the Burmese
generals relocation of the capital in 2005 to deep within the jungle
symbolises their perennial retreat away from international eyes. Both
justify their hermit tendencies to their own populations and to
frustrated visiting diplomats with talk of state sovereignty and the
need to repel foreign invasions. In North Korea, that became a more
tangible concern for the Kim Jong-il regime following global condemnation
of its first nuclear test in 2006, but for Burmas generals, their almost
pathological fear of the West was to be taken with a pinch of salt.
Until last week, that is: revelations about Burmas nuclear ambitions and
the depth of its relationship with North Korea have left interested
parties wondering how the two countries managed to both circumvent tough
sanctions, and hide this alliance from the world. Everything from
excavating machinery for Burmas underground military bunker system to
missile components has been passed over from North Korea, and the trade
appears to be a healthy one: one of many purchase orders for the bunker
project, which includes Tunnel drill equipment and Bombproof & sealing
system, and is cited to a Korean seller, was billed at $US21.5 million.
And no-one will feel these concerns more than the US. With two wars raging
in the Middle East and decades-long fears of a red tide sweeping Latin
America, the US has focused attention away from Southeast Asia since its
bloody departure from Vietnam in the 1970s. Ironically, US senator Jim
Webb, who last week cancelled a trip to Burma as evidence of its nuclear
programme began to trickle out, had paid a visit to South Korea days prior
to mark the commencement of the Korean War. He told a memorial ceremony in
Seoul that the 1950-53 conflict had provided Asia with a balance and a
guarantee of stability and prosperity that were unimaginable when the war
Those words now hang like diving bells over the region, as the formation
of another sinister nexus, or what Bushites would likely coin the new
axis of evil, appears to be well underway. The situation appears to have
worsened for the US since former US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice in
2005 brand Burma, along with North Korea, Cuba, Belarus, Zimbabwe and
Iran, as outposts of tyranny, because the chains between at least two of
these have been fastened.
And over the two stand China, the great puppeteer of the East, and the
first real threat to US global dominance since the fall of the Soviet
Union. The billion or so cogs driving the Chinese wheel have steered it to
friends in the darkest of corners, with Burma now economically subservient
and diplomatically dependent on its northern neighbour. Burmas
multi-billion dollar gas sales to China have largely financed the nuclear
programme and supported burgeoning trade with Pyongyang. In turn, the US
and UK have been unable to pass any substantial legislation on Burma in
the UN security council because China stands in the way, and shows no
signs of moving.
On the flipside, Chinas dependence on Burma is also growing, and beyond
purely energy needs: over the past decade Beijing has backed the
construction of a string of deep-sea ports from India to South Korea, via
Pakistan and Burma. Their purposes vary: a port mooted this year for
Bangladesh would allow Chinese imports to flood the market there, while
the Bay of Bengal port on Burmas western coast allows oil shipped from
the Middle East to be funnelled into the multi-billion dollar Shwe
pipeline project that runs the breadth of Burma into Chinas energy-hungry
southern provinces. If one joins the dots on a map of Chinese-backed ports
in the Asia region, what appears is a sturdy line of defence for Chinas
southern coastline: indeed, work began on the Gwadar port in Pakistan
effectively a Chinese naval outpost shortly after the US invaded
Afghanistan and set up military bases throughout Central, Southern and
Western Asia, virtually bringing its troops to Chinas doorstep.
What may be underway is an attempt to thwart the further encroachment of
US influence across Asia: China is worried about the stability of the
Straits of Malacca beneath Singapore where much of its Middle Eastern
oil cargoes travel through because US warships man the route and could
blockade it in the event that China presses the wrong buttons. Thus
Beijings passage through Burma circumvents this risk, and both countries
benefit: the Shwe pipeline project bagged the Burmese regime up to $US3
billion, and China gets a secure supply of oil and gas. North Korea,
crippled by sanctions, now has a wealthy fellow rogue to trade with, and
what forms is a powerful triangular relationship of convenience.
So Burmas efforts to develop a nuclear weapon may be another show of
force in this increasingly worrisome nexus. The Burmese generals have been
witness to the bellicose, often arrogant, rhetoric that the US has
levelled at its enemies, and may feel that they are next in line. Burmese
defector Aung Lin Htut claims that soon after junta chief Than Shwe came
to power in 1992, he thought that if we followed the North Korean example
we would not need to take into account America or even need to care about
China. In other words, when they have nuclear energy and weapons, other
wont dare touch Burma.
Whether the US is interested enough in Burma is debatable: pro-democracy
groups often accuse Washington of treating Burma as a boutique issue,
with real concern paling in comparison to the fixation the US has with
oil-rich outposts in the Middle East. Obama himself has barely mentioned
Burma in public and instead defers responsibility to lower-ranking state
department staff. While Burmas gas reserves are enough to tantalize
nearby China and Thailand, its oil reserves are meagre and their refining
abilities even worse. So recent history would suggest that the US will
But when a country like Burma one of the worlds few blackspots run by
a sadistic army clique that has dined out on inflated anti-imperialist
sentiment for decades shows such aggressive intentions, the world should
stand up and take notice. The argument that a nuclear power cannot condemn
another state with similar ambitions is perfectly valid, but in Burma, as
in North Korea, crucial money and resources for the project have been
channelled away from a starving population and into the hands of a
megalomaniacal regime. While it is too early to say whether a shift in the
worlds geopolitical balance is underway, Obama may be now questioning the
worth of his non-proliferation campaign. The East is now sizing up to the
West, and the rise of China, accompanied by its band of trigger-happy
brothers, shows few signs of abating.
June 11, Economist
Secrets will out
RUMOURS that Myanmar is the next recruit to a shady nuclear and missile
network that seems to link North Korea, Iran, Pakistan, Syria and possibly
others swirl intermittently. The missile link is clearest: in all these
cases, including Myanmars, North Korea has either sold missiles or helped
them build their own. But aside from an agreement in principle in 2007 for
Russia to build a small research reactor for Myanmar, there has been
little hard evidence of its juntas nuclear ambitions. The recent
defection of a former major in the Burmese army, Sai Thein Win, however,
and the documents and photographs he brought with him, appear to confirm
Myanmars intent, if not yet capacity, to enrich uranium and eventually
build a bomb.
Sai Thein Win handed over his evidence to the Democratic Voice of Burma
(DVB), an émigré-run broadcaster based in Norway. The material has been
analysed by Robert Kelley, an experienced former inspector for the
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UNs nuclear guardian. His
27-page report has plenty of caveats: Sai Thein Win is a missile expert,
not a nuclear boffin, and some of what he reports is hearsay; some
drawings are crude at best; some equipment seen in pictures could at a
pinch have civilian uses too. But experimental work on lasers that could
eventually be used to enrich uranium and other equipment for making
uranium metal, a necessary step in bomb-making, heighten suspicion. So do
close links between supposedly civilian nuclear officials and the Burmese
armys nuclear battalion, officially the Number One Science and
All this and other evidence, Mr Kelleys report concludes, lead to the
inescapable conclusion that such work is for nuclear weapons and not
civilian use or nuclear power. An earlier report, published in January by
the Institute for Science and International Security, an independent
Washington-based outfit, debunked some of the wilder rumours about
Myanmars nuclear quest. But it also concluded that foreign companies
should treat inquiries from Myanmar no differently from those from Iran,
Pakistan or Syria. All are known purchasers of illicit nuclear equipment.
Myanmar has only a Small Quantities Protocol with the IAEA. This exempts
it from regular inspections, on the governments assurance that it has
nothing to inspect. Sharper questions are now likely to be asked. The
agency had already been trying to dissuade Myanmar and Russia from the
research reactor. Sai Thein Win, who learned missile expertise in Russia,
says that since about 2002 hundreds of Burmese scientists have trained in
Russian nuclear institutes, including one formerly linked to the Soviet
Sai Thein Win offers no new insight into the North Korean link. But
Western intelligence agencies watch North Koreas activities in Myanmar.
There have been reports that a company associated with the construction of
a secret nuclear reactor in Syria (until it was bombed by Israel in 2007
just before completion) has worked in Myanmar too.
June 11, Nation (Thailand)
Can we ignore rumours of a nuclear Burma? Editorial
The rogue state next door may be trying to buy North Korean technology and
expertise; the idea isn't as far-fetched as it sounds
On the face of it, it is absurd to assert that a country like Burma could
go nuclear in the next ten or twenty years. Such an impoverished nation,
and a signatory to the Southeast Asian Nuclear Weapons Free Zone in 1995,
could not and would not do that. So, the conventional argument goes. This
must be a plot cooked up by international conspirators to further portray
Burma in a bad light and destroy the country's effort to become a full
democracy. After all, the brutal military regime is telling anyone who
will listen that the country will become normal after its scheduled
election later this year - although the date of the poll still remains a
Preoccupation with recent events in Thailand have given the Burmese junta
leaders a great deal of space to manoeuvre and plan their political
future, and show the success of their seven-point "roadmap" for
The same innocent observation was also made in the cases of North Korea
and Iran, both of which have become far more advanced in their
long-standing nuclear ambitions. For decades, nobody questioned their
motives, until it was too late. Pyongyang has now become the centre of
attraction, despite its isolation. The country is unpredictable, not to
mention aggressive. The recent sinking of a South Korean ship, allegedly
by a North Korean submarine, has turned the security and stability of the
Korean Peninsula upside-down. As a result, worldwide sympathy and support
for South Korea has been increasing. At the same time, North Korea does
not seem to budge in the face of international pressure.
But what is both new and worrisome is the suspected mutual cooperation
between North Korea and Burma on nuclear technology. The two countries
were once at loggerheads, after half the South Korean cabinet was killed
in a bomb blast in Rangoon in 1983. The attack was allegedly carried out
by North Korean agents. Now, it seems, the two countries have kissed and
Why? Both countries are "rogue states" that have been isolated
internationally. They are both subject to economic sanctions and thus have
been drawn to each other out of desperation - the down-side of isolation -
and a sense of survival.
The extent of North Korea's alleged nuclear assistance has yet to be
assessed by international experts. Suffice to say at this point, Pyongyang
may have given the Rangoon junta enough knowledge and components to
proceed confidently with its future nuclear ambition. The latest report by
the Norway-based Democratic Voice of Burma, using material from defectors
from the Burmese army, and piles of documents and photographs, have
provided what appear to be credible grounds for suspicion. But certainly,
more evidence will be needed for concerted international action to ensure
that Burma does not embark on this dangerous path.
Thailand's security apparatus, especially the National Security Council,
is staying mute over these latest developments.
Thai intelligence and security officials - like their counterparts in many
countries - continue to play down the Burmese junta's nuclear ambition and
the related reports. Perhaps they are just too terrified at the thought of
this possibility. They still think Burma is too poor and too backward to
develop such technology.
What they may not be taking into account is that this kind of technology
can be bought at the right price. Thailand is currently paying around
US$880 million per year for Burmese natural gas. Thanks to Thai naivety
and the generosity and dependency syndrome of decision-makers in the
energy sector, Burma has excess cash to pay for North Korea's nuclear
It may seem like an impossible scenario, but one day, when the country
faces the threat of nuclear annihilation by its unpredictable neighbour,
they will have to answer to their families and the country why such a
monstrous scheme was allowed to be hatched under their noses.
Oh, mai pen rai, we say. They don't have the capability to produce nuclear
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