Monday, August 24, 2009

Does Myanmar Want Nuclear Weapons?

by Michael Sullivan
National Public Radio - Transcript

There is no doubt Myanmar has a nuclear program. It sent scientists, technicians and army officers to Russia for training in recent years. And Moscow has agreed to supply Myanmar, formerly Burma, with a small nuclear reactor for civilian use. The question is, do the Burmese generals want a nuclear weapon, too?


Even as he tries to keep his domestic program from falling apart, the president has to pay attention to threats abroad. And this morning, we have a hint why the U.S. may need to pay attention to Myanmar. Last week, we heard from a Virginia senator, who visited that country. Here's one reason why that engagement matters. Myanmar, like Iran, has a nuclear program.

Here's NPR's Michael Sullivan.

MICHAEL SULLIVAN: There is no doubt Myanmar has a nuclear program. It sent scientists, technicians and army officers to Russia for training in recent years. And Moscow has agreed to supply Myanmar with a small nuclear reactor for civilian use. None of this is disputed. The question is do the Burmese generals want a nuclear weapon too.

Mr. BERTIL LINTNER (Yale Global Online): It is quite clear, I think, that although the Burmese may not have a bomb or even a nuclear capability - no, not yet - they're certainly interested in acquiring one.

SULLIVAN: That's Bertil Lintner. He has written extensively about both Myanmar and North Korea from his base in Thailand.

Mr. LINTNER: And they're seeing how the North Koreans have been able to stand up against the Damascus and the rest of the world because they are nuclear armed. And they would like to have the same kind of negotiating positions.

SULLIVAN: Lintner's recent piece in Yale Global Online detailed the growing defense ties between the two countries and the elaborate underground complexes Myanmar's generals are building with help from North Korea. The tunnels, and the reports this summer - ships from North Korea with mysterious cargos bound for Myanmar - have many countries concerned, including the U.S.

Secretary of State Clinton speaking last month in Thailand.

Secretary HILLARY CLINTON (Department of State): We know that there are also growing concerns about military cooperation between North Korea and Burma, which we take very seriously. It would be destabilizing for the region, it would pose a direct threat to Burma's neighbors and it is something as a treaty ally of Thailand that we are taking very seriously.

SULLIVAN: But the ship may have already sailed. Interviews with defectors, done by Professor Desmond Ball of the Australia National University's Defense Study Center and journalist Phil Thornton, suggest Myanmar is already well on its way with two reactors already in place.

One of the defectors who worked for a prominent Burmese businessman with close ties to the military, says his former boss helped transport materials from North Korean ships to the remote nuclear sites.

Unidentified Man: Their first intention is with the help of North Korea, they produce U235. If they get U235, (unintelligible) not so difficult. If they can arrange UF6, they can make the nuclear bomb.

SULLIVAN: Phil Thornton says he believes the defector's story to be both credible and worrisome, since it matches what other defectors interviewed in Thailand has said.

Mr. PHIL THORNTON (Journalist): Professor Ball has estimated, based on the defector's testimonies, that it could be about 2014 that may have enough nuclear material to start thinking about a weapon.

SULLIVAN: Myanmar, of course, denies any weapons program exists, but seems unusually sensitive to the recent publicity about the issue. Virginia Senator Jim Webb says it came up during his meetings with Myanmar's leadership ten days ago.

Senator JIM WEBB (Democrat, Virginia): I did not directly raise the issue of the nuclear program. It was raised to me by a high governmental official, basically saying, you know, we would never move toward a nuclear weapons program.

SULLIVAN: These denials, of course, are met with a great deal of skepticism by those who follow the growing relationship between North Korea and Myanmar. But analyst Bertil Lintner still isn't convinced Myanmar has even one reactor, let alone two. There is no concrete evidence, he says, that the Russians have delivered the reactor they promised, nor, he says, is there any hard evidence the North Koreans have either - though satellite images do show construction around Myanmar's suspected nuclear sites.

What is clear, Lintner says, is that Myanmar's main ally, China, is well aware of Myanmar's nuclear ambitions. Last year's clandestine visit to North Korea but a senior Burmese general, he says, proves it.

Mr. LINTNER: He passed through China on his way to North Korea, back again. On his way back from North Korea, Shwe Mann and his entourage had meetings with high-level officials. It was almost as the Chinese were, not only aware of what this trip through North Korea, but they were closely involved in it. See, it's very convenient for the Chinese to be able to say, we're not doing this. This is the North Koreans. We can't control them. It's kind of a sort of plausible deniability. But there's definitely Chinese complicity in this new corporation between North Korea and Burma.

SULLIVAN: Something else for the U.S. to think about as it considers a review of its policy toward Myanmar, amid the ongoing tug-of-war with North Korea over its nuclear program.

Michael Sullivan, NPR News.

INSKEEP: This is NPR News.

READ MORE---> Does Myanmar Want Nuclear Weapons?...

'Evidence lacking' of Burma's nuke plans

(The Age)- Information leaking out of Burma raises suspicions of a clandestine nuclear program in cahoots with North Korea but there's no solid evidence, a new study says.

The paper, released by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) says any suggestion of a secret weapons of mass destruction (WMD) program conducted by a rogue state like Burma must be cause for serious concern.

The author, Griffith University research fellow Andrew Selth, said no one could underestimate the lengths to which Burma's military leaders would go to stay in power and to protect the country from perceived external threats.

"Some of the information that has leaked out of Burma appears credible, and in recent years other snippets of information have emerged which, taken together, must raise suspicions," he said.

Relations between Burma and North Korea, which both achieved independence in 1948, have been traditionally patchy but warmed in 1988 when Burma was ostracised by the west after the abortive 1988 pro-democracy uprising.

Mr Selth said reliable information was scarce but it seemed that Burma had purchased weapons and munitions from North Korea. Periodic visits of North Korean freighters to Rangoon have prompted speculation that Burma has acquired more advanced weaponry, such as SCUD-type missiles.

Media reports last month claimed Burma had embarked on a secret nuclear weapons program, aided by North Korea which has long conducted a clandestine nuclear weapons program, testing devices in 2006 and 2009.

Mr Selth said the US had steadfastly refused to accuse Burma of a secret WMD program, probably because it did not feel there was sufficient reliable evidence to mount a public case.

"Understandably, foreign officials looking at this issue are being very cautious. No one wants a repetition of the mistakes which preceded the 2003 Iraq War, either in underestimating a country's capabilities, or by giving too much credibility to a few untested intelligence sources," he said.

Mr Selth said the challenge was to determine if Burma had such a program and if so, to do something about it.

He said Burma's regime did not seem to fear international criticism or the threat of increased sanctions.

"The exposure of a WMD program would probably see Burma expelled from ASEAN," he said.

"Even if that were to occur, however, the generals seem prepared to see Burma return to its pre-1988 isolation and poverty, if that was the price they had to pay to remain masters of the country's and their own destiny."

READ MORE---> 'Evidence lacking' of Burma's nuke plans...

Principles impede progress in U.S. Burma policy

(Policy Examiner) -Secretary of State Hillary Clinton must order a U.S. Burma policy review that will consider abandoning fruitless principles in favor of practical, measurable reforms. The United States has maintained sanctions against Burma’s military junta for two decades. During that time, the situation in Burma has deteriorated considerably by almost any standard of measurement.

While the United States has been busy isolating Burma out of a sense of moral indignation, tens of thousands of political prisoners have been detained in deplorable conditions; democratic elections have been suspended; private property has been routinely seized by the government without due process; multiple peaceful demonstrations have been suppressed with state-sanctioned violence; nonprofit organizations have been largely prohibited from provisioning humanitarian aid to Burma’s unhealthy, indigent population, even after devastating natural disasters; and Burma’s ruling regime has forged an intimate military relationship with North Korea, the world’s most unsavory rogue state.

Viewed in strictly utilitarian cost-benefit terms, such a poor record of policy performance suggests that continuing a sanctions and isolation approach will only worsen the situation in Burma over time. John Stuart Mill would turn over in his grave at the idea of allowing such a failed policy to continue.

The actions of the Burmese government are, in part, a function of its imposed isolation from the international community. Following the devastation of Cyclone Nargis in 2008, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates stated that tens of thousands of Burmese died because their government initially refused aid from many countries, to include the United States. Recent concerns that Burma could obtain a nuclear weapons capability--thanks to its recently rekindled relationship with North Korea—additionally underscores the importance of considering a reform of U.S. policy toward Burma.

To the extent that Burma remains connected to the outside world, it does so through trade and aid relationships with China, India, and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member countries. Current U.S. Burma policy serves as an unnecessary point of friction with these important U.S. strategic partners. Further, as long as China, India, and ASEAN maintain their ties to Burma, there is almost no possibility that the punitive dimension of U.S. sanctions toward Burma will have any positive impact.

The time has come to change America’s approach to Burma. The Director of the Asian Studies Center at the Heritage Foundation, among others, has argued that current U.S. Burma policy should continue because it is “right.” This view seems to advocate that Burma policy should be based on principle, not effectiveness.

A better approach would be to reach out to China, India, and ASEAN to identify points of possible commonality in their respective approaches to Burma. A truly multilateral strategy addressing Burma would be a significant improvement over America’s current policy. Even if a single common approach among all these actors cannot be achieved, the United States should still consider engaging Burma in diplomatic and track II dialogues, possibly scaling back sanctions against Burma in the process.

Arguments for punishing Burma on the basis of a moral imperative are no stronger than arguments for engaging Burma for equally powerful moralistic reasons; the humanitarian cost of sanctions has been too great. Some might argue that the United States would set a dangerous precedent for other rogue states to follow by spurning international norms and the rule of law only to have the United States ultimately willing to reestablish relations. But this line of argumentation venerates principle above effectiveness, which is precisely the opposite of how good public policy should be made.

Establishing a constructive Burma policy starts with a comprehensive policy review. The national security, geopolitical, and humanitarian costs of avoiding such a review are simply too great.

READ MORE---> Principles impede progress in U.S. Burma policy...

KNU Struggles to Acquire Arms

The Irrawaddy News

Despite being a major player in one of the longest-running civil wars in the world, the guerilla soldiers of the Karen National Union (KNU) are currently finding it difficult to acquire weapons of any description for their armed struggle against the Burmese military regime.

A commander of KNU’s military wing, the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), who asked to remain anonymous, said he is ready to buy weapons and has enough money to purchase what he needs, but he cannot find a broker who will sell to him.

“We have enough money,” he said. “We are in the market to buy dozens of assault rifles, preferable AK-47s, but it is proving hard to get them.

“We are careful with our old weapons and maintain them very well, so we can use them for a long time,” he said.

The KNLA produces some explosives, especially landmines; however, it is commonly believed that the Karen rebels do not have the capacity to produce high-grade weaponry, such as assault rifles, RPGs or mortars.

The KNLA commander said that the insurgents are able to pay for arms from the income they generate from local businesses, taxation and border trade with Thailand, including logging and the sale of gold and zinc.

He noted that the supply of arms has decreased greatly since the civil war ended in Cambodia and since the KNLA lost its base of Thai support.

The Times magazine in London reported in March that the KNU leadership was losing the support of the Thai government which it had previously been able to rely on for a supply of weapons.

Earlier this year, all KNLA commanders were asked to vacate Thai soil and return to areas under their control.

Founded in 1947, the KNU is the oldest rebel force in Burma and has been fighting for self-determination, autonomy and equality ever since the Burmese central government declared independence from Britain colonial rule in 1948.

READ MORE---> KNU Struggles to Acquire Arms...

Army torches over 300 houses of ethnic Shan

by Myo Gyi

Ruili (Mizzima) – Over 300 houses were torched last month by local Burmese Army columns from townships in southern Shan State, the armed ethnic Shan group statement said.

A statement issued by the 'Restoration Council of Shan State' (RCSS) on August 21 said six Burmese Army battalions set over 300 houses on fire since July 27. RCSS is the political wing of the 'Shan State Army' (South) – SSA-S.

"We want the international community, especially ASEAN and UN human rights organizations to know about the human rights violations in Burma. This statement urges and reminds the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) military clique to stop its human rights violations committed on both Shan people and the entire Burmese people," the SSA-S spokesman Sai Lao Sai told Mizzima. SSA-S has been waging war against the junta for the right to self-determination.

Following clashes between the junta's army and SSA-S in central Shan State last month, the Burmese Army destroyed the villages for their alleged role in supporting Shan rebels by setting their houses on fire in keeping with its four-cuts policy, which includes cutting off communication channels between the villagers and the rebel army.

Over 40 villages, which were forcibly relocated, are from Meng Neng, Kehsi, Meng Kai, Leikha, Panlong, Nam Pan, Mone and Kun Hein in southern Shan State. Villagers from these villages now have to roam and hide in the dense forests, spokesman Sai Lao Sai said.

About 42 houses were burnt down in Tatmauk and Wan Ho Lone villages in Leikha Township by army columns led by Maj. Kyaw Thu Hla and Maj. Zaw Myo from IB 12 under the command of LIB 88, the local villagers said.

In a separate video report sent by Mizzima undercover reporters, 154 houses could be seen torched on July 29 in Hokhe village, Meng Kai Township. It left 641 people homeless.

The villagers fled without being able to take any belongings. Among the losses were a small rice mill, six motorcycles, one hand tractor with a trailer and 50 oxen pulled carts.

The homeless people had to take refuge at the monasteries in nearby villages or stay with their relatives.

"They could not bring anything with them except some pots and some clothes. All the paddy was burnt down along with their houses," an undercover Mizzima reporter, who watched the carnage, said in his report from Burma.

Sai Lao Sai said that they had already compiled the human right violations report with facts and figures committed in Shan State from 1996 to 2008. "In their four-cuts campaign, the junta systematically commits human rights violations against the Shan people. This had forced nearly 1,000 villages to be relocated. Nearly 2 million ethnic Shan people are homeless and displaced.

At least 718 women were sexually assaulted and 12 women were killed in sexual violence in Shan State from 1996 to 2005, the RCSS statement said.

READ MORE---> Army torches over 300 houses of ethnic Shan...

Aung San Suu Kyi worse off this time in detention: lawyer

by Phanida

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – Detained Burmese democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi’s situation under house arrest this time around is worse than her earlier term, her lawyer Nyan Win said.

The Burmese opposition leader was escorted back to her lakeside house on August 11, after her three-year prison with hard labour was commuted to 18 months.

“But since her return, the situation under which she is detained seems to be far more complicated and is worse than her earlier house arrest term,” said Nyan Win, who is also the spokesperson for her party – the National League for Democracy.

He said, the eight-point condition imposed on her by the regime is amorphous and has created far more confusion.

“We don’t know if she can accept guests or whether the guests have to first seek permission. Even we, her lawyers, are not sure of the implications of the eight-point condition,” Nyan Win said.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s sentence was commuted from three years with hard labour by an executive order from the junta supremo Snr Gen Than Shwe, which was read out in the court on August 11. The order also imposed eight conditions that she had to abide by.

Than Shwe’s order, however, said she could be released if she is found serving her suspended sentence without violating the conditions.

The eight-point condition includes living in her lakeside house, freedom to stroll in the compound of her house, receiving medical treatment, receiving guests with prior permission from the authorities, allowed to watch Myanmar Television (MRTV), allowed to read books and journals and newspapers published after censorship and allowed to write to authorities if she wanted to do anything and seeking the permission of the concerned authorities before doing anything.

Nyan Win said the conditions are confusing and unclear. But he said, these points clearly indicate that the government wants Aung San Suu Kyi to steer clear of politics.

On August 11, the pro-democracy leader was visited by a physician sent by the government for a health check up, Nyan Win said.

“I don’t know if the doctor had examined her [Aung San Suu Kyi], but what she told us is that she had requested the authorities to send her family doctor Dr. Tin Myo Win,” Nyan Win said.

Following her return to her lakeside home, authorities removed two other workers living inside the compound of her house and only allowed her two party housemates – Khin Khin Win and Win Ma Ma – to stay with her.

READ MORE---> Aung San Suu Kyi worse off this time in detention: lawyer...

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