Tuesday, August 4, 2009

US reiterates concern over Burma-N. Korea tie-up

by Mungpi

New Delhi (Mizzima) - The United States on Monday reiterated its concern over military cooperation between Burma and North Korea, but did not elaborate on the kind of cooperation the two countries had.

Philip J. Crowley, Assistant Secretary of the State Department’s Public Affairs during a regular press briefing on Monday told reporters, “We do have concerns about the nature of cooperation between both Burma and North Korea, and North Korea and any other country.”

“I think over time, we would like to clarify with Burma more precisely the nature of its military cooperation,” said Crowley in response to questions related to Burma building an underground nuclear complex with North Korea’s help.

But Crowley refused to comment on questions relating to the underground nuclear facility reported to have been built in Burma by North Korea.

The State Department’s renewed concern came in the wake of a report, published in the ‘Sydney Morning Herald’ on Saturday, pointing to Burma’s nuclear ambitions and its secret efforts to produce a nuclear weapon by 2014 with the help of North Korea and Russia.

The report, which is a result of over two years of investigation into Burma’s nuclear ambitions researched by Desmond Ball, a regional security expert at the Australian National University, and Phil Thornton, an Australian journalist, based on the Thai-Burma border, said the Burmese regime has collaborated in recent years with North Korea and Russia to develop a reactor capable of producing one nuclear bomb a year by 2014.

The report, based primarily on testimonies of two Burmese defectors - an army officer and a book keeper from the junta’s business crony Htoo Trading Company – said Burma is excavating uranium in 10 locations and has two uranium plants in operation to refine uranium into “yellowcake,” the fissile material for nuclear weapons.

The army defector, who is known as Moe Jo, an alias, said Burma is planning to build a plutonium reprocessing plant in Naung Laing in central Burma, and Russian technicians have already begun “teaching plutonium reprocessing,” the report claims.

Moe Jo, according to the report, is an army officer, who graduated from the Defense Services Academy (DSA) in Pyin Oo Lwin in Mandalay division. Reportedly, he had been sent to Russia for a two-year training course as a preparation to be a part of the nuclear battalion.

The other defector, Tin Min, was said to be a book keeper for the powerful businessman Tay Za, who owns Htoo Trading Company and has a very close relationship with Burmese military supremo Senior General Than Shwe.

Tin Min told the investigators that his boss Tay Za had negotiated nuclear contracts with Russia and North Korea and arranged for the collection and transportation, at night by river, of containers of equipment from North Korean boats in Rangoon’s port.

Earlier, similar information on Burma’s secret nuclear programme, citing anonymous sources, had been released by Mr. Roland Watson, of the US-based “Dictator Watch.”

While testimonies of the two defectors cannot be independently verified, the report suggests that the Burmese military junta maintains military cooperation with North Korea and Russia.

Though the US and others of the international community have not been critical of Burma’s relationship with Russia including Moscow’s help in setting-up a 10 Megawatt light water nuclear reactor, Burma’s relationship with North Korea has been widely condemned.

The US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton last month expressed “grave concern” over military cooperation between North Korea and Burma, saying “we take it very seriously.”

But she also said she was encouraged with Burma’s willingness to abide by its responsibilities under the sanctions that were recently passed by the UN.

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