Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Burma must come clean

(Bangkok Post) -The evidence is now overwhelming of an alliance between Burma and North Korea. The vital question for Thailand is whether whatever ventures the two rogue states have started up pose a threat to our neighbourhood.

In one sense, the answer is a clear "yes", since secrecy breeds suspicion. But as this newspaper showed in three major reports last Sunday, the Burma-North Korea alliance vastly increases the stakes of international diplomacy in our backyard and in the rest of Southeast Asia.

Any project involving nuclear weapons paints a new bull's-eye over the region, not to mention that Burma would be in gross and unforgivable violation of the Asean agreements it has signed.

First, the known facts.

Burma, with experts from North Korea, has undertaken huge earthworks in areas where foreigners and most Burmese are not allowed. Truck-sized tunnels have been burrowed into the ground and hills in the general region of the heavily secured new capital, Naypyidaw, in remote central Burma.

Commercial satellite photos show more than 600 tunnel complexes. Other photographs, taken on the ground and smuggled out of the country, show that some of the tunnels are fortified with blast-proof doors.

During construction of these tunnels, which was begun by 2003, Burma renewed official relations with North Korea, cut off in 1983 after state-sponsored terrorists from Pyongyang attempted to assassinate South Korean president Chun Doo-hwan in Rangoon with three deadly bombs.

Relations resumed in April, 2007. At the time, the chief concern of Burma's neighbours and the United Nations was that the twin rogue states would collude against human rights, chiefly with Burma purchasing weapons from North Korea.

The Burmese military continues to abuse citizens at the whim or acquiescence of the ruling junta. But the tunnel projects and increasingly warm relations between Burma and North Korea raise major questions that get to the very basis of Southeast Asian diplomacy, cooperation and peace.

Burma and its dictatorship have clearly violated major tenets of Asean. Indeed, as details of the tunnel projects emerged to the public, Burmese officials were attending the Asean Regional Forum in the southern Thai resort island of Phuket. The purpose of the ARF is specifically to encourage openness among all members in order to build trust.

Even the most peaceful and innocent nuclear project requires Burma - by Asean and by United Nations law - to fully reveal the work. It must be remembered that the junta has stated that it wants a small nuclear reactor, such as the one in Bangkok. Russia announced it would help to achieve that aim; then the subject was dropped from public discussion. But even that proposal must be fully public, and conducted through the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency.

There also has been speculation that the tunnels are part of a plan to mine uranium, and again Burma would be breaking international law not to discuss that.

On general principles of regional agreement, Burma must quickly disclose what it is up to with the tunnel complexes. The generals can prove that reports of nuclear cooperation with North Korea are wrong.

But by their silence they also can encourage even more distrust and suspicion about the intentions of their violent regime.

READ MORE---> Burma must come clean...

Security tightened in Buthidaung prison

Buthidaung, Arakan State: Security has been tightened in Buthidaung prison by the Burmese Army as alleging some prisoners escaped from prison yesterday night, said an official source.

Some rocks and stones were thrown at the prisoner’s sheds number 4 and 5 yesterday at about 8:40 pm, where there are mostly political prisoners from 88 uprising groups. The prison authorities informed the military command office of Buthidaung as the political prisoners were planning to escape before the forthcoming 88 uprising anniversary with the help of outside democracy activists group, the official said.

The prison authorities moved prisoners from sheds numbers 4 and 5 to other places where the prisoners were kept in fetters and then sent to a dark room, the official added.

The military command office sent troops to the prison after receiving information from the prison and arranged for tight security outside where no one is being allowed to pass at night and early morning of today. At about 7:00 am, the troops withdrew, said an aide of the army from Buthidaung.

“It is just a plan to keep the political prisoners more secure in the prison because of the forthcoming 88 uprising anniversary,” said a local from Buthidaung.

“How did people throw rocks and stones at the sheds from outside with so many guards in the prison and how did the prisoners escape from prison,” he asked.

READ MORE---> Security tightened in Buthidaung prison...

Rakhine woman commits suicide in Paletwa

Paletwa, Chin State (KPN): A Rakhine woman committed suicide after becoming pregnant in Paletwa Township on August 3, said a village elder from Paletwa.

The woman was identified as Ma Nu Sein Oo (18) daughter of U Poe Htha of Maynigone block, Paletwa Township.

Ma Nu Sein Oo was found dead on her bed on August 3, at about 5:30 a.m. when her younger sister went to wake her up for work, said a family member of Ma Nu Sein Oo.

The younger sister found a suicide note in her hand, the family member said.

The note explained that she was in love with Sergeant Kyaw Zaw Aung from the Light infantry Battalions (LIB) 289 and a close relative of the battalion commander.

She told her lover Kyaw that she was one month pregnant. Kyaw reported to his commander and requested permission to marry. But, the commander refused the request and sent him home on a month’s vacation where his family members forced him to marry another woman, the letter stated.

By then Sein Oo was four months pregnant and she did not want her family members to know. So she took poison, the note added.

Ma Nu Sein Oo drank insecticide which used for farmland, said U Poe Htha.

READ MORE---> Rakhine woman commits suicide in Paletwa...

China edgy over Burma’s nuclear ambitions

by Brian McCartan

Bangkok (Mizzima) - Another round of revelations concerning Burma’s nuclear ambitions and its nexus with North Korea has thrown up renewed international interest. Combined with comments by the United States of its concern over the growing cooperation between its pariah neighbours, China must be growing increasingly uneasy.

The revelations came about in a report in The Sydney Morning Herald on Saturday and are based on two years of research by Desmond Ball, a strategic studies expert and Burma watcher at the Australian National University and freelance journalist Phil Thornton. Much of their information comes from the testimony of two defectors, who claim to have been connected to the nuclear programme, and from radio intercepts. While reports on Burma’s nuclear programme have been circulating for some time among the opposition media and Burmese activists, Ball and Thornton claim their research indicates with some certainty that two reactors are under development and that the regime is developing a nuclear weapons capability.

According to their research a 10 megawatt reactor is being developed with Russian assistance at Myaing in Magwe Division and another “secret” 10 megawatt reactor is being developed with North Korean help at Naung Laing in Mandalay Division. In addition, North Korea facilitated the construction of a uranium refining and enrichment facility at Thabike Kyin. Although both reactors are small, security analysts have noted that North Korea developed its runaway nuclear programme from a similar reactor at Yangbyon.

Of a more sinister nature, Ball and Thornton also claim that testimony from the defectors indicates that a programme is already underway to develop a viable nuclear weapon. Should the defectors testimony prove true, they say, then the “secret” reactor could be capable of “producing one bomb a year, every year, after 2014.”

Although a weapons programme would require more external support than is currently being provided, Pyongyang has shown a willingness to export technology and know-how to other reclusive and anti-Western regimes. In Burma’s case, that know-how and technology could be traded for fissionable nuclear material to continue the development of North Korea’s own weapons.

The voyage of a North Korean cargo ship, the Kang Nam 1, last month believed to be heading to Burma, aroused suspicions of cooperation between Pyongyang and Naypyidaw on the development of ballistic missiles. Opposition sources claim the junta may have already acquired Scud-type missiles or is testing its own designs with the help of North Korean advisors. These claims have not been independently verified, but a visit by General Thura Shwe Mann, SPDC Number 3, to North Korea seemed to partially confirm the claims when he and his entourage inspected a Scud production facility.

In early July, reports emerged that Tokyo police had arrested three Japanese executives for allegedly trying to sell equipment to Burma which could be used in ballistic missile construction. The Hong Kong-based New East International Trading Ltd. which had ordered the parts has been linked to the North Korean Pyongyang Worker’s Party.

Burma’s acquisition of a nuclear weapon and the development of ballistic missiles to deliver such a device will surely raise the regional security temperature and has the potential to spark a new Southeast Asian arms race. Following Saturday’s report, Thai National Security Council head Thawil Pliensri ordered officials to look into the reports.

Such a situation would almost certainly not be favoured by Burma's main international patron. Considerable effort has been spent by China in developing Burma as a source of cheap natural resources to supply its growing industrial base, as a trade gateway to its remote and landlocked southwestern region and as a strategic conduit for oil and gas shipments from the Middle East.

Work is scheduled to begin next month on an oil and gas pipeline that will carry 20 million tons of crude oil and 12 billion cubic meters of gas every year across Burma to the southwestern city of Kunming. The proposed pipeline will allow Chinese oil rigs to bypass the narrow Malacca Straits, where over 80 per cent of its current fuel imports pass and viewed as a potential strategic chokepoint in any conflict with the US.

The last thing China wants, say analysts, is to see its new commercial arteries put at risk by US concerns over a nuclear Burma. China has to varying degrees been propping up Burma’s military regime since it withdrew support for the Burmese Communist Party in the late 1980’s Beijing’s support through massive arms shipments has been key to the generals’ ability to rapidly expand their military to an estimated 500,000 soldiers.

China’s influence has also been key to deflecting criticism of Burma in international fora, including at the United Nation's Security Council. Since the 1980s Beijing has spent considerable effort and money making economic inroads and securing lucrative concessions over Burma's rich natural resources for Chinese companies.

Subtle signs have already surfaced of China’s growing annoyance with Burma’s brinksmanship with the international community. That assumed concern would no doubt grow if Burma were to acquire ballistic missiles or a nuclear-grade weapon. Australian Burma expert Andrew Selth wrote in a 2007 paper, "Beijing is unlikely to be happy about the prospect of the SPDC acquiring a nuclear weapon, given [Burma's] proximity to China, its internal instability and the unpredictable behaviour of its leaders."

While China has so far tolerated North Korean conventional weapons shipments and links to supplying ballistic missile and nuclear technology to other regimes considered unsavoury internationally such as Syria and Iran, that goodwill may be stretched by having that same technology shared with its nearby neighbours. This would be particularly the case if it sours ties with greater Southeast Asia, where it has recently dedicated considerable diplomatic and commercial energies in a so-called "soft power" campaign.

Maintaining regional stability is a paramount Chinese concern. Burma's possession of ballistic missiles or a nuclear capability would risk the spread of weapons of mass destruction technologies in a region where no state has acquired nuclear weapons. A regional arms race would likely ensue as Burma's neighbours sought deterrence options.

As Selth wrote, "In this atmosphere of fear and suspicion, the security stakes in the region would go up, raising the prospect of other countries feeling obliged to expand their own inventories of strategic weapons. Beijing would also worry about the possible response of the US to closer [Burma]-North Korea ties." If Burma were to acquire ballistic missiles and substantive evidence was found of a nuclear programme, Washington would likely be forced to re-evaluate its Burma policy towards more direct engagement.

During a regular press briefing on Monday, US Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs, Philip J Crowley, said America was concerned by “the nature of cooperation between North Korea and Burma.” Although he did not elaborate on what type of cooperation and refused to comment on questions related to any underground nuclear complex, many observers believe the US is taking a renewed interest in Burma’s nuclear designs.

According to Andrew Selth in an article on August 3 in ‘The Interpreter’, the weblog of the Lowy Institute for International Policy, the Obama administration has conducted a thorough investigation of Burma’s nuclear programme as part of its ongoing review of its Burma policy. The US has, however, so far been cautious in its statements on the matter and seems to be waiting for more solid evidence before making a formal statement.

Continued leaks of information and the resultant media attention on military links and possible nuclear cooperation between Naypyidaw and Pyongyang will only serve to maintain and even heighten US interest in Burma. The Obama administration has already shown a renewed interest in Southeast Asia, making it in China’s best interest to reign in the ambitions of its southern neighbour.

READ MORE---> China edgy over Burma’s nuclear ambitions...

UN to tackle Burma’s child soldier problem

(DVB)–A United Nations team will visit Burma to pressure the ruling junta and armed ethnic groups to end use of child soldiers, as concern remains about the prevalence of the practice in the country.

The announcement follows a report issued in June by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon which said there had been "grave violations" against children in Burma, with both the Burmese military and ethnic rebel militias guilty of recruitment.

The report accused the junta of failing to provide proof of measures it said it was taking to end use of child soldiers, and of blocking UN access to rebel groups.

Radhika Coomaraswamy, UN special representative for children and armed conflict, said on Tuesday that there had been some positive developments and that the Burmese government had been demobilising some children.

"We still are not sure how comprehensive that is and the extent of it," she told Reuters. "And so I am dispatching a team [to Burma] at the end of this month."

Human rights groups have criticised the government for not doing enough to tackle the problem, which they say is being masked over.

“The current situation seems to be pretty much the same; recruitment of child soldiers is still continuing but more underground,” said David Matheson from Human Rights Watch.

“Even though the [government] has taken some steps, it is woefully insufficient to the scale of the problem and is just not good enough.”

He went on to explain that the difficulty with the UN is that they have to work through the ruling State Peace and Development Council, which in 2004 constructed a committee ostensibly to address the problem.

But, says, Mathieson, it is a “public relations exercise to assuage the concerns of the international community that they’re actually doing anything.”

“I think any investigative mission by the UN has to see through those efforts and realise that a couple of token announcements and returns of some children which have been demobilised are way below the scale of the problem which we think there is,” he said.

Recrutiment of children under 15 into the army has been recognised as a war crime by the International Criminal Court.

Burmese law states that no child under the age of 18 shall be recruited into the army.

However, in a Human Rights Watch report, ‘Sold to be Soldiers’, it is reported that commanders rarely check documentation.

Furthermore, army generals place ambitious recruitment targets on commanders who are faced with the dilemma of either losing their job or recruiting children.

The punishment for recruiting children is small in the face of being demoted to a lower rank.

In July, one of Burma’s main rebel groups, the Shan State Army (SSA), signed a memorandum of understanding with Abolish Slavery and International Operations Centre for Children (IOCC), vowing to prevent the use of child soldiers in return for outside aid to increase their international credibility.

The United Wa State army, Burma’s largest rebel force, is reported to have the most child soldiers, second to the Burmese national army.

The Kachin Independence army is the only armed group to recruit girls, while the SSA and the Karen National Liberation Army have policies against recruiting children under 18, but do not turn away children who actively seek to join.

Yesterday, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted a landmark resolution 1882 on Children and Conflict.

The council called upon the Secretary General to expand his “list of shame” beyond recruitment and use of children.

The list will now include countries that are responsible for the killing and maiming of children as well as those who perpetrate grave sexual violence against children in wartime.

Reporting by Alex Ellgee

READ MORE---> UN to tackle Burma’s child soldier problem...

Dam forcibly displaces 15,000 Burmese

(DVB)–The construction of the unfinished Tasang dam in eastern Burma has already forced around 15,000 people into refugee camps in neighbouring Thailand, according to a report released yesterday.

Upon completion, the Tasang dam on the Salween river in Shan state will be the largest in Southeast Asia, bigger than China’s Three Gorges dam.

But ‘Roots and Resilience’, a report released by the Shan Sapawa Environment Organisation which focuses on the Kheng Kham community, documents the forced relocation of 15,000 civilians living near to the dam site.

Shan state is Burma’s prime opium growing region and the site of often intense conflict, with factions of the ethnic Shan State Army fighting against the Burmese government.

“The dam is in a war zone and the Burmese military always suspect the villagers are part of an armed group,” said Sai Sai, a spokesperson from Shan Sapawa Environment Organization. “So they are arrested, tortured, and many rape cases have been reported in the area.”

The 7,110 megawatt Tasang dam is the biggest of five dams planned on the Salween river.

Last year the government announced that 28 dams were under construction, adding to the 12 that already exist. There are plans to build another 10.

Investors in the project include Thailand’s MDX Company and China’s Gezhouba Group Company.

The majority of the energy generated by the dam will be sold to Thailand, who recently reiterated its support for the project when it included it in its national Power Development Plan against the wish of human rights groups.

“We want to pressure the Thai government not to put the Taseng dam into Power development plan” said Sai Sai.

“If they are doing so then they are showing their support for the dam and for the human rights violations that are occurring as a result of the dam”.

“If they go ahead with the dam 15,000 people will lose everything because their homes will be under the water.”

According to environmental group International Rivers, between 40 and 60 million people worldwide have been displaced by hydropower projects.

Reporting by Alex Ellgee

READ MORE---> Dam forcibly displaces 15,000 Burmese...

Visitors told of Burma prisoner amnesty

(DVB)–A list of political prisoners to be released in an amnesty has already been drawn up by the Burmese government, according to family members visiting political prisoners last week.

The Burmese ambassador to the United Nations, Than Swe, said in July that the government would be releasing prisoners “with a view to enabling them to participate in the 2010 general elections”.

The pledge was greeted with widespread skepticism, with some observers claiming it was being done to avoid UN Security Council action.

But the wife of National League for Democracy (NLD) member, Ko Zaw Zaw Aung, who is in Tharawaddy prison, said that authorities there have already drawn up a list of releases.

“According to the sources, the list of people who will be released from prison had already been posted inside the prison,” she said. “They said 52 people will be released.”

Around 100 political prisoners still remain inside the prison, according to Ko Zaw Zaw Aung, who was arrested whilst demonstrating in front of the NLD headquarters in August 2007 against the hike in fuel and commodity prices which triggered the September 2007 monk-led protests.

Similarly, a list of people has reportedly been drawn up in Kale prison, Sagaing division, according to the sister of activist Su Su Nway, who heard the news when she visited the prison.

“[Su Su Nway] said she may be one of the political prisoners released; she was perhaps informed by someone inside there,” said Ma Htay Htay Kyi, adding that her sister had told her she did not have permission to talk about it.

The amnesty pledge followed a visit to Burma in early July by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, intended in part to pressure for the release of political prisoners.

Than Swe told the Security Council that the Burmese government would "implement all appropriate recommendations that [the] Secretary General had proposed".

The Burmese government has previously granted an amnesty to prisoners following a visit by UN human rights rapporteur Tomas Ojea Quintana. Over 6,000 prisoners were released but only around 30 had been charged on political grounds.

According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners-Burma (AAPP), over 2,160 prisoners remain languishing in Burma’s notorious prisons, 472 of which are members of the National League for Democracy party.

Reporting by Nang Kham Kaew

READ MORE---> Visitors told of Burma prisoner amnesty...

Nuclear watchdog urged to seek answers from Burma

By Anne Davies Herald Correspondent in Washington

(SMH) -AMERICAN non-proliferation experts have called on the international nuclear watchdog to seek clarification from the Burmese Government over its nuclear program after a Herald report that quoted defectors claiming there was a secret military nuclear program.

The report, based on interviews by Professor Desmond Ball of the Australian National University and a journalist, Phil Thornton, said the country had been developing a secret nuclear program. It revealed Burma was building a secret reactor, with North Korea’s assistance, at Nuang Laing, close to Mandalay.

The report has prompted intense interest among US security experts, particularly in the light of comments by the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, in Thailand.

She said there had been ‘‘co-operation between North Korea and Burma in the past’’ and that North Korea had provided Burma with high-technology materials barred by the United Nations Security Council.

She made the remarks while praising Burma for having co-operated in the enforcement of UN resolution 1874, which is designed to prevent North Korea from shipping nuclear materials to other nations.

A North Korean ship turned back after being shadowed by the US Navy en route to Burma last month.

Daryl Kimball, of the Arms Control Association, told the Nelson Report, an influential online security report, that although there had been no evidence of a Burmese nuclear-weapons quest, whatever the North Koreans were doing must be made a priority by the International Atomic Energy Agency, of which Burma is a member.

‘‘The report is probably enough cause for the IAEA director-general [and Russia] to seek clarification from Myanmar [Burma] and request a special inspection,’’ Mr Kimball said.

Russia is said to have agreed in 2007 to provide the Burmese with a small, civilian light-water reactor, which would be subject to agency inspections, although the project’s exact status is disputed.

David Albright, the head of the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington, which monitors nuclear proliferation said: ‘‘There’s no hard evidence, just suspicions right now. We are watching it.’’ (JEG's: translation = it means we are waiting for something to hit and exterminate a good number of skeptics...)

He pointed out visits to Burma by executives from the North Korean firm, Namchongang Trading Corporation, which is under sanctions for its role in trading nuclear technology. Western officials say it channelled equipment and material for the nuclear reactor in Syria, which was destroyed in an Israeli air strike in September 2007.

Mr Albright also pointed to sales of technology used in ballistic missile manufacture from North Korea to Burma.

On Monday the Institute for Science and International Security posted links to photos on the YaleGlobal site, which show extensive tunnel construction in Burma overseen by North Korean engineers. They are understood to be separate to tunnelling related to the nuclear program referred to by the defectors.

READ MORE---> Nuclear watchdog urged to seek answers from Burma...

Recent Posts from Burma Wants Freedom and Democracy

Recent posts from WHO is WHO in Burma


The Nuke Light of Myanmar Fan Box
The Nuke Light of Myanmar on Facebook
Promote your Page too