Re: [justpeaceinasia] [Readingroom] Re-sending: News on Burma - 5/6/10
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--- On Thu, 10/6/10, CHAN Beng Seng <bengseng@...> wrote:
From: CHAN Beng Seng <bengseng@...>
Subject: [justpeaceinasia] [Readingroom] Re-sending: News on Burma - 5/6/10
Date: Thursday, 10 June, 2010, 10:59 AM
- Burma’s military budget to increase significantly
- National Library goes in regime’s latest property sale
- Desperate plight of Burma’s Rohingya people
- Most trafficking victims in Thailand ‘are Burmese’
- Burma tops ‘worst of the worst’ list of human rights violators
- Report says Burma is taking steps toward nuclear weapons program
- Myanmar’s nuclear bombshell
- Expert says Burma ‘planning nuclear bomb’
- Ethnic leaders dividing community
- EU neighbours sign up to Myanmar sanctions
- Caught between a vote and a hard place
- Myanmar’s military ambitions
- The international community’s naive beliefs on Burma
- Sanctioning disaster
- Depayin masterminds wield power in USDP
- Insein court tacks 10 years on to youth’s term
- Burma intelligence probes political inmates
- Five facts about China-Myanmar relations
- The ghost of elections past
- Than Shwe’s electronic dream
- Transocean drilled in Burmese waters linked to drug lord
- North Korea exporting nuke technology to Burma: UN experts
Burma’s military budget to increase significantly
Irrawaddy: Fri 4 Jun 2010
At the four-monthly meeting of Burma’s top generals held in Naypyidaw during the last week of May, the junta significantly increased its military budget from last year, according to sources close to the Burmese military. A military source told The Irrawaddy on Thursday that although the amount budgeted to the military is unavailable, it is known to be much larger than last year’s military budget.
“The money allocated to the military was budgeted under the heading ‘Defense Budget’, but there was no specific line items for separate expenses,” he said.
The military source added, however, that it is generally believed that large military equipment purchases will be made within the next six months.
In 2009, Burma signed a contract with Russia for the purchase of 20 MiG-29 jet fighters at a cost of nearly US $570 million.
Analysts believe that many of Burma’s future military purchases may come from North Korea.
According to a report by UN experts obtained by The Associated Press last month, North Korea is exporting nuclear and ballistic missile technology and using multiple intermediaries, shell companies and overseas criminal networks to circumvent UN sanctions.
The UN’s seven-member panel monitoring the implementation of sanctions against North Korea said its research indicates that Pyongyang is involved in banned nuclear and ballistic activities in Iran, Syria and Burma.
In November 2008, Gen Thura Shwe Mann, the regime’s No 3 ranking general, made a secret visit to North Korea and signed a memorandum of understanding, officially formalizing military cooperation between Burma and North Korea with his North Korean counterpart, Gen Kim Kyok-sik.
During his trip to Pyongyang, Shwe Mann also visited sites of secret tunnel complexes built into the sides of mountains to store and shield jet aircraft, missiles, tanks and nuclear and chemical weapons.
In addition, according to Burmese Maj Sai Thein Win, a former deputy commander of a top-secret military factory who defected and brought with him top secret documents and photographs about Burma’s nuclear projects, secret underground bunkers and tunnels have been built at many locations in Burma.
Sai Thein Win, who was trained in Burma as a defense engineer and later in Russia as a missile expert, said that about 10,000 Burmese officials have been sent to Russia thus far to study military technology, including nuclear technology.
Sai Thein Win also said in a report that Burma is trying to build medium-range missiles such as SCUDs under a memorandum of understanding with North Korea. “Burma wants to have rockets and nuclear warheads. Burma wants to be a nuclear power,” Sai Thein Win said.
One reason the regime is able to increase its military budget and import expensive military equipment and technology may be its expected increase in energy revenues.
A study by the Washington-based United States Institute of Peace said that Burma’s export earnings from the country’s growing energy sector will double in the next five years, due mainly to oil and gas transit pipelines now being built from Burma to China. The Institute said the calculation is based on energy exports—mostly gas—accounting for at least 45 percent of the $6.6 billion earnings declared by Burmese interests in 2008.
Burma’s military regime is infamous for spending a large percentage of its national budget on the military, rather than on education, health and other public services. According to Burma military experts, 40 to 60 percent of the national budget is allocated to the military.
In contrast, 0.4 percent of the national budget is spent on healthcare, while 0.5 percent is spent for education, according to a report released in 2007 by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a think-tank based in London.
In other news regarding the four-monthly meeting, according to military sources there was no major military reshuffle in Naypyidaw.
National Library goes in regime’s latest property sale – Nayee Lin Latt
Irrawaddy: Fri 4 Jun 2010
Burma’s National Library and a TV studio complex are among five state-owned buildings sold to private investors, according to informed sources in Rangoon.Apart from the National Library, the regime has shed itself of the MRTV 3 news and studio complex, the People’s Department Store, the Yadanapon Theater and a six-story office building, said sources close to the regime’s Privatization Commission.
The buildings were among more than 20 administered by the regime’s Department of Human Settlement and Housing Department. The buildings that are still unsold belong to the Ministry of Industry No. 1, Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation, Ministry of Health, Rangoon Division Department of Health, Ministry of Transport, Ministry of Energy and Ministry of Co-operatives.
A Privatization Commission official said that since late 2009 a total of 147 state-owned buildings, including factories and government ministry offices, had been sold off.
A Rangoon Municipal Committee engineer said the sale was aimed at offering “economic opportunities” not only to business investors but also to the “general public.”
One of the customers in the latest sell out, however, was the Shwe Taung Development Co., Ltd., which enjoys a close relationship with the regime. It paid 130 billion kyat (about US $13 million) for the MRTV 3 complex.
The National Library went for only about 100 million kyat ($100,000), while the Yadanapon Theater, which belonged to the Myanma Motion Picture Enterprise of the Ministry of Information, fetched more than 920 million kyat (nearly $1 million).
One businessman with close contacts to regime officials suggested that state-run property was being sold off to raise funds for the development of the government quarter in Naypyidaw and help finance the upcoming election.
A retired professor from Rangoon’s University of Economics expressed sorrow at the sale of the National Library, saying it contradicted an official statement assuring support for Burmese literature.
Desperate plight of Burma’s Rohingya people
BBC News: Fri 4 Jun 2010
Nasima, 22, is from the Rohingya ethnic group, a Muslim minority that lives in western Burma. Rights groups say it is one of the most persecuted communities in the world – they were made stateless in 1982, and deemed to be illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.Several hundred thousand have since crossed into Bangladesh, where people speak a similar language. This year Dhaka has been accused of arresting hundreds of Rohingya and forcing them over the border – claims the government denies. It says it is too poor to help them. The BBC’s Mark Dummett spoke to Nasima in the Kutupalong makeshift camp, which is now home to more than 30,000 Rohingyas.
“In Burma my people face persecution, so that’s why we come to Bangladesh,” Nasima said.
“In my family’s case, we came under pressure from the government because we had some property.
“One day, the army accused my father of sheltering someone who had just returned from Bangladesh. Anyone who comes back to Burma is sent to jail, so it is illegal to look after them. But that accusation was false.
“They took my father to a military camp and beat him up. After seven days they sent us his blood-stained clothes and said they would kill him.
“So we sold all our cattle and chickens at the market. We sent that money to the camp and they then released him.
“Later, my brother was attacked by some Buddhist people. He was badly injured and after lots of suffering he eventually died.
“As I grew up, my father decided that I wasn’t safe in Burma. The government doesn’t let us marry so he told me to leave for Bangladesh.
“We had a relative who was handicapped and a beggar, and she agreed to look after me.
“We took a boat over the river and it was very dangerous. On the other side we were stopped by the Bangladesh Rifles [BDR].
“They demanded bribes of 100 taka each [$1.50] to let us through, but we only had 100 taka between us.
“‘You must leave the girl with us then,’ the BDR men said. But my relative refused and argued that she could not move without me helping her. So finally they let us through.”
Nasima said: “I already had one sister in Bangladesh but I didn’t know where she was living. So we went to Cox’s Bazar and lived as beggars.
“Sometimes people would give us a little rice or a bit of money to survive.
“Finally I met a man who knew my sister. She was living in Alikadam, and her husband came and got me.
“I lived there for two years, working as a farm labourer. Life was fine, and I was able to marry and have a child.
“But five days after the baby was born the police arrived. They came without warning when we were having dinner.
“They rounded up all the Burmese men including my husband and my sister’s husband and put them in a police truck.
“I told the police that I had a newborn and that we could not survive without my husband.
“I begged them to let him stay, but they said that the Rohingya should expect no mercy. So I told them to take me too.
“They put me into the lorry and drove us to the river.
“They found a fishing boat and threatened to beat up the captain if he didn’t take us to the other side – to Burma.
“Once we got there, he told us that he had seen some other Rohingyas being shot by the Nasaka [the Burmese border guards], and he told us how to follow the river upstream and then sneak back into Bangladesh.
“We walked the whole night and then finally in the morning we got back to this side.
“That’s when I noticed there was something wrong with my baby. He had died during the journey and I hadn’t even realised it. We dug a small hole with our bare hands and buried him there.
“We came to a road and waved to a passing jeep. We begged the driver to save our lives and take us away from there. All I had to pay him with was my scarf.
“He had heard about the Kutupalong camp and said that the Rohingya were safe there.
“One week after arriving at the camp my husband said he had to go and find work. He left and I have no idea where he is now.
“I survive by going into the jungle and collecting firewood to sell. If I collect some, I can then eat a little.
“This week I have only had three meals. But I am living alone. It is much worse for some of the families with 10 or 11 mouths to feed.
“Death would be better than this life.”
Most trafficking victims in Thailand ‘are Burmese’ – Usa Pichai
Mizzima News: Fri 4 Jun 2010
Chiang Mai – Burmese workers rank the highest in numbers of human-trafficking victims in Thailand, while a labour shortage in the kingdom’s expanding fisheries industry is set to exacerbate the problem, rights groups say.Sompong Sakaew, director of the Labour Rights Promotion Network, told Mizzima today that human trafficking in Thailand was ranked by the United States as “worrisome” and that the situation had worsened in recent years. The NGO is based in the fish-farming and salt-producing province of Samut Sakhon, on the Gulf of Thailand south of Bangkok.
“The biggest problem is in the fishery industries, where Burmese workers are deceived and forced to work the hardest and longest,” he said.
A recent estimate of the number of migrant workers in Thailand was set at more than three million, but the registered number is 700,000 workers, and they are mainly from Burma.
Sompong said business owners in Thailand still lacked the conscience to employ workers legally. Many wanted cheap labour and ignored the realities of the illicit trade that was supplying and exploiting these workers.
“Thailand is at risk of an international boycott of its seafood products if the human trafficking in this industry remains unresolved,” he warned.
According to the Mirror Foundation anti-human-traffick ing centre in Bangkok, up to 138 cases were reported to the foundation last year – three times than in the previous year. The report was released at a press conference yesterday in Bangkok prior to National Anti-human Trafficking Day tomorrow.
Conditions in northern Thailand have also declined. Burmese boys from Mae Sot were deceived and forced to sell roti in Chiang Mai. Traffickers have also persuaded children from Burmese families to work in Thailand, and later forced them to sell flowers in the northern city, according to Duan Wongsa, manager of the Anti-Trafficking Co-ordination Unit Northern Thailand, in Chiang Mai.
“Recently… traffickers brought children from refugee camps along the border in Tak Province to inner provinces of Thailand,” she added. “Children would be brought and forced to work as domestic helpers for pitiful wages.”
Ekkalak Lumchomkae, head of the Mirror Foundation centre, told Mizzima the situation was in crisis, particularly in the fisheries sector.
GreenFacts.org ranked Thailand third in the world in 2006 among its top 10 exporters and importers of fish and fishery products, but the country faces a severe labour shortage, with an estimated deficit of more than 10,000 workers. The shortage provides impetus for the traffickers to tries harder to search workers to serve businesses.
“From our fieldwork in some areas, there are politicians and officials behind the traffickers,” Ekkalak said. “Legal measures to control the fisheries sector are ineffective or local officials are negligent in applying the law.”
The situation in other sectors, such as prostitution, begging and flower-selling remained unchanged in 2008 and last year, the centre’s report said.
Ekkalak said the rate Burmese workers have to pay to middlemen to work in Thailand had increased, from the recent figure of around 20,000 baht (US$606), to 25,000 baht, nearly twice the amount demanded in the previous year. It takes most of them at least a year to repay the brokers.
He added that police have only been able to arrest minor Burmese traffickers after raids on suspected factories, failing to net the masterminds. “Local police were not brave enough to charge them [trafficking kingpins] under the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act 2008, but tend to lay charges for lesser offences.”
The centre blacklisted four seaside provinces with severe trafficking problems: Songkhla, Chonburi, Samut Sakhon and Samut Prakan.
A 14-year-old Muslim girl in Mae Sot, lured into working as a flower-seller in Bangkok, said she went unpaid during two years work for her employers.
“They told me that the money would be paid to my mother but she also never saw it,” the teen said. “They also hit me in the head when I could not bring in enough money.”
She later escaped from her taskmasters with the help of her neighbours and returned to Mae Sot – which along with the fishing town of Ranong on the southwest coast of Thailand near a marine border with Burma, and Chiang Rai in the far north – is a hotspot of activity for human traffickers.
Thai Minister of Social Development and Human Security Issara Somchai said at the opening of anti-human trafficking campaign in Bangkok that recent trafficking has become a more complex process.
Transnational networks put children and young people at high risk because their desire for better livelihoods leaves them open to exploitation, according to a report on Thailand’s Public Relations Department website on Friday.
Thailand’s first anti-trafficking legislation took effect in June, 2008, and was aimed at tackling the ever-increasing problem. The content specified provisions banning trafficking that involves the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons by threats or use of force for the purpose of exploitation.
Exploitation is defined as seeking benefit from prostitution, or production or distribution of pornographic materials. The law also bans other forms of sexual exploitation, slavery, forced begging, other forced labour or provision of services, coerced removal of organs for the purpose of trade, or any other similar practices resulting from forced or harmful work with extortion as the result, regardless of a person’s consent.
However, activists said the problem was not in the law, but in its application. Local police are reluctant to charge traffickers, who are often violent or armed, or employers in their jurisdictions, who usually have considerable social power. Police therefore seek far lesser penalties than the legislation prescribes, rights activists have said.
Burma tops ‘worst of the worst’ list of human rights violators – Howard LaFranchi
Christian Science Monitor: Fri 4 Jun 2010
Washington — The hit parade of the world’s worst human rights violators is out, and it reads like a rap sheet of the usual suspects.The “worst of the worst,” as Washington-based human rights watchdog Freedom House calls them, is comprised of nine countries and one territory: Burma, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Sudan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tibet (under Chinese jurisdiction) .
What Freedom House calls “shameful” is that one of those “worst” – Libya – was just elected to the United Nations’ premier human rights organization, the Human Rights Council. Moreover, three countries on the organization’s expanded list of countries with only slightly better human-rights records – China, Cuba, and Saudi Arabia – are already members.
“It’s a badge of shame that these countries sit on the council, but the shame really goes to the [UN] General Assembly countries that elected these egregious violators of rights in the first place,” says Paula Schriefer, Freedom House’s director of advocacy. She notes that Saudi Arabia, for example, was elected to the council with more than 150 votes out of the 192 General Assembly members.
In all, 20 countries and territories have such appalling human rights records as to be considered the world’s worst. Rounding out the list Freedom House issued Thursday are: Belarus, Chad, Guinea, Laos, Syria, and two territories: South Ossetia and Western Sahara.
The “worst of the worst” list is just one piece of evidence that Freedom House offers to support its conclusion that freedom globally is on the decline, after several decades of general expansion.
“By absolute standards, the world is still freer than it was 30 years ago,” Freedom House Executive Director Jennifer Windsor says in the report’s overview. The less-good news: “The last four years have seen a global decline in freedom,” she adds, including in such specific areas the organization measures globally as multiparty elections, freedom of association, freedom of speech, rights of minorities, and the rule of law.
The report finds that the countries on the “worst” list represent a “narrow range” of political systems with such familiar names as dictatorship, military junta, and one-party rule. Another common factor in many of the countries on the list is corruption.
The Human Rights Council, which sits in Geneva, is dismissed by some rights advocates because of the participation of some “worst” rights violators. The council was snubbed by the Bush administration for that reason, but the Obama administration reversed course and decided to try to reform the body from within.
Ms. Schriefer, who was reached by phone in Geneva where she is representing Freedom House with the council, calls the presence of “egregious” rights violators on the council an “embarrassment,” but adds, “There’s no reason the majority can’t get down to business on the work of promoting and supporting human rights in all corners of the world.”
She notes on the bright side that the council has managed to appoint an independent expert on Sudan, and is about to consider renewing the expert’s mandate. “You can tell issues like this matter to countries [that become the object of rights probes] by the energy and resources they put into avoiding it,” she says.
The council has also registered a number of setbacks. A group of rights-promoting countries attempted to pass a resolution in May 2009 condemning Sri Lanka for repressive actions against its own citizens. But the effort backfired when supporters of the Sri Lankan regime on the council amended the resolution so it ended up praising the government’s steps.
“Now Sri Lanka uses the resolution as part of its propaganda trumpeting the support it has garnered internationally,” Schriefer says. “That was not a positive step for human rights.”
Report says Burma is taking steps toward nuclear weapons program – Joby Warrick
Washington Post: Fri 4 Jun 2010
Burma has begun secretly acquiring key components for a nuclear weapons program, including specialized equipment used to make uranium metal for nuclear bombs, according to a report that cites documents and photos from a Burmese army officer who recently fled the country.The smuggled evidence shows Burma’s military rulers taking concrete steps toward obtaining atomic weapons, according to an analysis co-written by an independent nuclear expert. But it also points to enormous gaps in Burmese technical know-how and suggests that the country is many years from developing an actual bomb.
The analysis, commissioned by the dissident group Democratic Voice of Burma, concludes with “high confidence” that Burma is seeking nuclear technology, and adds: “This technology is only for nuclear weapons and not for civilian use or nuclear power.”
“The intent is clear, and that is a very disturbing matter for international agreements,” said the report, co-authored by Robert E. Kelley, a retired senior U.N. nuclear inspector. Officials for the dissident group provided copies of the analysis to the broadcaster al-Jazeera, The Washington Post and a few other news outlets.
Hours before the report’s release, Sen. James Webb (D-Va.) announced that he was canceling a trip to Burma, also known as Myanmar, to await the details. “It is unclear whether these allegations have substantive merit,” Webb, who chairs a Senate Foreign Relations panel on East Asia, said in a statement released by his office. “[But] until there is further clarification on these matters, I believe it would be unwise and potentially counterproductive for me to visit Burma.”
There have been numerous allegations in the past about secret nuclear activity by Burma’s military rulers, accounts based largely on ambiguous satellite images and uncorroborated stories by defectors. But the new analysis is based on documents and hundreds of photos smuggled out of the country by Sai Thein Win, a Burmese major who says he visited key installations and attended meetings at which the new technology was demonstrated.
The trove of insider material was reviewed by Kelley, a U.S. citizen who served at two of the Energy Department’s nuclear laboratories before becoming a senior inspector for the International Atomic Energy Agency. Kelley co-wrote the opposition group’s report with Democratic Voice of Burma researcher Ali Fowle.
Among the images provided by the major are technical drawings of a device known as a bomb-reduction vessel, which is chiefly used in the making of uranium metal for fuel rods and nuclear-weapons components. The defector also released a document purporting to show a Burmese government official ordering production of the device, as well as photos of the finished vessel.
Other photographs show Burmese military officials and civilians posing beside a device known as a vacuum glove box, which also is used in the production of uranium metal. The defector describes ongoing efforts on various phases of a nuclear-weapons program, from uranium mining to work on advanced lasers used in uranium enrichment. Some of the machinery used in the Burmese program appears to have been of Western origin.
The report notes that the Burmese scientists appear to be struggling to master the technology and that some processes, such as laser enrichment, likely far exceed the capabilities of the impoverished, isolated country.
“Photographs could be faked,” it says, “but there are so many and they are so consistent with other information and within themselves that they lead to a high degree of confidence that Burma is pursuing nuclear technology.”
A Washington-based nuclear weapons analyst who reviewed the report said the conclusions about Burma’s nuclear intentions appeared credible and alarming. “It’s just too easy to hide a program like this,” said Joshua H. Pollack, a consultant to the U.S. government.
Myanmar’s nuclear bombshell – Bertil Lintner
Asia Times: Fri 4 Jun 2010
Bangkok – Myanmar’s ruling generals have started a secret program to develop nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles to deliver them in a high-stakes bid to deter perceived hostile foreign powers, according to an investigative report by the Democratic Voice of Burma that will be aired later on Friday by television news network al-Jazeera.Asia Times Online contributor Bertil Lintner was involved in reviewing materials during extensive authentication processes conducted by international arms experts and others during the report’s five-year production. In the strategic footsteps of North Korea, Myanmar’s leaders are also building a complex network of tunnels, bunkers and other underground installations where they and their military hardware would be hidden against any external aerial attack, including presumably from the United States.
Based on testimonies and photographs supplied by high-ranking military defectors, the documentary will show for the first time how Myanmar has developed the capacity and is now using laser isotope separation, a technique for developing nuclear weapons. It will also show how machinery and equipment has been acquired to develop ballistic missiles.
That Myanmar is now trying to develop nuclear weapons and has become engaged in a military partnership with North Korea will dramatically change the region’s security dynamic. Myanmar is a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), a 10-nation grouping whose members jointly signed the 1995 Southeast Asian Nuclear-Weapon- Free Zone Treaty, also known as the Bangkok Treaty.
The nuclear bid will also put the already diplomatically isolated country on a collision course with the US. US Senator Jim Webb, who has earlier led a diplomatic drive to ”engage” the junta, abruptly canceled his scheduled June 4 trip to Myanmar when he learned about the upcoming documentary. The explosive revelations about Myanmar’s nuclear initiative are expected to freeze Washington’s recent warming towards the generals.
It is possible that the junta’s grandiose schemes could amount to little more than a monumental waste of state resources. According to one international arms expert familiar with the materials on Myanmar’s program, the laser isotope separation method now being employed by Myanmar’s insufficiently trained scientists ”is probably one of the worst that is yet to be invented. The major countries of the world have spent billions of dollars trying to make the process work without success.”
There is thus a risk that the generals will further undermine the country’s already wobbly economic fundamentals on ill-conceived weapons projects, ones that may yield little more than lots of radioactive holes in the ground and some crude Scud-type missiles.
Western military experts assert that any sophisticated bunker-buster bomb could easily penetrate the newly built network of tunnels and other underground facilities, constructed near the new capital of Naypyidaw. In light of the country’s lack of technical know-how, Myanmar’s desired nuclear bomb may also turn out to be a huge white elephant. It is not even certain that its homegrown missiles will fly. At least that is the conclusion of weapons’ experts who have closely examined the materials that will be presented in al-Jazeera’s investigative report.
The program was produced over five-years by the Democratic Voice of Burma, or DVB, a Norway-based radio and TV station run by Myanmar exiles. They have made their case based on leaked photographs, documents and testimonies from key military defectors. The documentary was directed by London-based Australian journalist Evan Williams.
The report’s main source, Sai Thein Win, is a former Myanmar army major who recently defected to the West, bringing with him a trove of information never seen before outside of the country. His documentation has been scrutinized by, among others, Robert Kelley, a former US weapons scientist at the Los Alamos facility where work is conducted towards the design of nuclear weapons.
>From 1992 to 1993 and 2001 to 2005, Kelley also served as one of the directors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). “Sai Thein Win reminds us to some degree of Mordecai Vanunu, an Israeli technician at the Dimona nuclear site in the Negev desert … Sai is providing similar information,” said Kelley.
Vanunu blew the whistle on Israel’s nuclear program, and, according to Kelley, Sai Thein Win has “provided photographs of items that would appear to be very useful in a nuclear program as they are specific to nuclear issues. They could be seen as for other things, but they look like they were designed for a nuclear program.”
Geoff Forden, another international arms expert, says Myanmar appears to be “pursuing at least two different paths towards acquiring a missile production capability. One is a more or less indigenous path. The less indigenous comes from the fact that they have sent a number of Myanmar military officers to Moscow for training in engineering related to missile design and production.”
Sai Thein Win was among the Myanmar army officers sent to Russia and he has produced photographs of himself taken during his training there. He also has pictures of a top secret nuclear facility located 11 kilometers from Thabeikkyin, a small town near the Irrawaddy River in northern Myanmar.
He claims this is the headquarters of the army’s nuclear battalion and that it is there the regime is trying to build a nuclear reactor and enrich uranium for weapons. Missile development, he says, is carried out at another facility near Myaing, southwest of Mandalay, in central Myanmar.
Machinery for the Myaing plant has been supplied by two German firms, which also sent engineers to install the equipment. The Germans, Sai Thein Win says, were told that “the factories were educational institutions … those poor German engineers don’t know, didn’t know that we were aiming to use those machines in producing rocket parts or some parts for military use.”
How useful those machines will be for missile development is questionable. Despite their training in Russia, the Myanmar engineers handling them have little or no knowledge of producing sophisticated weapons, according to experts who say the generals’ apparent dream of having a nuclear reactor may also be just that: a pipedream.
Another high-ranking Myanmar military official also provided DVB’s researchers with classified information related to the country’s nuclear and missile program. He, however, fell out of view while in Singapore some time last year and his current whereabouts is now unknown.
Myanmar was one of the first countries in the region to launch a nuclear research program. In 1956, the country’s then-democratic government set up the Union of Burma Atomic Energy Center in the former capital Yangon. Unrelated to the country’s defense industries, it came to a halt when the military seized power in 1962. The new military power-holders, led by General Ne Win, did not trust the old technocrats and saw little use in having a nuclear program designed for peaceful purposes.
In 2001, Myanmar’s present ruling junta aimed to revitalize the country’s nuclear ambitions. An agreement was signed with Russia ’s Atomic Energy Ministry, which announced plans to build a 10-megawatt nuclear research reactor in central Myanmar. That same year, Myanmar established a Department of Atomic Energy, believed to be the brainchild of the Minister for Science and technology, U Thaung, a graduate of the Defense Services Academy and former ambassador to the US. At the time, US-trained nuclear scientist Thein Po Saw was identified as a leading advocate for nuclear technology in Myanmar.
Reports since then have been murky, including speculation that the deal was shelved due to Myanmar’s lack of finances. The Russian reactor was never delivered, but in May 2007 Russia ’s atomic energy agency, Rosatom, again announced it would build Myanmar ’s nuclear-research reactor. Under the initial 2001 agreement, Myanmar nationals, most military personnel, were sent to Russia for training. Nearly 10 years later, Russia has yet to deliver the reactor because Myanmar “refused to allow inspection by the IAEA”, according to DVB.
North Korean ally
Myanmar thus appears to have embarked on its own indigenous program to build a nuclear research reactor. Unconfirmed reports circulated on the Internet claim that North Korea is assisting the Myanmar authorities in the endeavor. Diplomatic relations between North Korea and Myanmar, which were severed in 1983 when North Korean agents detonated a bomb in Yangon, were officially restored in April 2007.
Only days later, a North Korean freighter, the Kang Nam I, docked at Thilawa port near the old capital. Heavy crates were unloaded under strict secrecy and tight security. A journalist working for a Japanese news agency was detained and interrogated for attempting to photograph the unloading.
Last year, the Kang Nam I was back in the news when, destined for Myanmar, it was turned back by US naval warships. At the time, it was thought to be carrying material banned under UN Security Council resolutions aimed at preventing North Korea from exporting material related to the production and development of weapons of mass destruction (WMD).
North Korea’s role in Myanmar ’s nascent nuclear program is still a matter of conjecture. But in May this year, a seven-member UN panel monitoring implementation of sanctions against North Korea said its research indicated that Pyongyang is involved in banned nuclear and ballistic activities in Iran, Syria and Myanmar.
The experts in the documentary said they were looking into “suspicious activity in Myanmar”, including the presence of Namchongang Trading, one of the North Korean companies sanctioned by the UN. North Korean tunneling experts are also known to have provided crucial assistance to the construction of Myanmar’s underground facilities.
According to an unnamed Myanmar army engineer, who was also interviewed for the DVB documentary, “a batch of eight North Koreans came each time and [were] sent back, [then] another eight came and were sent back. At the Defense Industry factories, there are at least eight to 16 of them … they act as technical advisers.”
In November 2008, Gen Shwe Mann, the third-highest ranking official in Myanmar’s military hierarchy, paid a secret visit to Pyongyang. Traveling with an entourage of military officers, he visited a radar base and a factory making Scud missiles, and signed a memorandum of understanding with the North Koreans to enhance military cooperation between the two countries.
A photo file and other details of the visit were leaked to Myanmar exiles and were soon available on the Internet, prompting the authorities to carry out a purge within its own ranks. On January 7 this year, one Foreign Ministry official and a retired military officer were sentenced to death for leaking the material.
Aung Lin Htut, a former intelligence officer attached to the Myanmar Embassy in Washington until he defected in 2004, claims that soon after General 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 countries … won’t dare touch Myanmar.”
The tunnels and bunkers – some of which are large enough to accommodate hundreds of soldiers – should be seen in the same light, Aung Lin Htut has argued. “It is for their own safety that the government has invested heavily into those tunnel projects,” he said.
The generals may fear not only an outside attack, which is highly unlikely according to security experts, but also another popular uprising. In 1988, millions of people took to the streets to demand an end to military dictatorship. In 2007, tens of thousands of Buddhist monks led marches for national reconciliation and a dialogue between the military government and the pro-democracy movement.
On both occasions, the generals responded with military force and brutally suppressed the popular movements. But the generals were shaken and apparently saw the need to move themselves and vital military facilities underground and away from populated areas, as also seen in the junta’s bizarre and sudden move to the new capital Naypyidaw in November 2005.
For other reasons, North Korea reacted similarly after the war on the Korean Peninsula. North Korea is believed to have one of the world’s most extensive complexes of tunnels, storage facilities – and even weapons’ factories – all hidden from the prying eyes of real and imagined enemies.
That is likely why Myanmar’s generals see Pyongyang as a role model and why relations between the two countries have warmed since the 1990s – hardly by coincidence at the same time the US has become one of Myanmar’s fiercest critics. In 2005, then-secretary of state Condoleezza Rice branded Myanmar, along with Belarus, Cuba, North Korea, Iran and Zimbabwe as “outposts of tyranny”, and the US tightened financial sanctions against the regime and its supporters.
The present US administration of President Barack Obama adopted a more conciliatory approach, sending emissaries to Myanmar to “engage” the generals and nudge them towards democracy. But sources close to the decision-making process in Washington also believe that concern over Myanmar’s WMD programs – and increasingly close ties with North Korea – should be equally important considerations in any new US policy towards Myanmar.
One of the negotiators recently sent to Myanmar, US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia Kurt Campbell, is interviewed in the DVB documentary. When asked about Myanmar’s new security-related polices and initiatives, he replies rather cryptically:
Some of it is sensitive so really can’t be discussed in great detail, but I will say we have seen enough to cause us some anxiety about certain kinds of military and other kinds of relationships between North Korea and Burma [Myanmar]. We have been very clear with the authorities about what our red lines are … we always worry about nuclear proliferation and there are signs that there has been some flirtation around these matters.
According to internal documents presented by the DVB, the total cost of Myanmar’s tunneling projects and WMD programs is astronomical, running into billions of US dollars. This appears to be one reason why several Myanmar military officers have defected to the West – and brought with them the evidence that will be seen by global audiences on Friday.
* Bertil Lintner is a former correspondent with the Far Eastern Economic Review and the author of Great Leader, Dear Leader: Demystifying North Korea Under the Kim Clan. He is currently a writer with Asia Pacific Media Services.
Expert says Burma ‘planning nuclear bomb’ – DVB and Robert Kelley
Democratic Voice of Burma: Fri 4 Jun 2010
A five-year investigation by DVB has uncovered evidence that Burma is embarking on a programme to develop nuclear weaponry. At the centre of the investigation is Sai Thein Win, a former defense engineer and missile expert who worked in factories in Burma where he was tasked to make prototype components for missile and nuclear programs.Sai contacted DVB after learning of its investigation into Burma’s military programmes, and supplied various documents and colour photographs of the equipment built inside the factories. The investigation has also uncovered evidence of North Korean involvement in the development of Burmese missiles, as well as Russia’s training of Burmese nuclear technicians.
In collaboration with DVB, American nuclear scientist and a former director in the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Robert Kelley, has spent months examining this material. Here he writes in an exclusive report for DVB that Burma is probably mining uranium and exploring nuclear technology that is only “useful only for weapons”. For the full 30-page report, click here.
A remarkable individual has come out of Burma to describe nuclear-related activities in that secretive country. DVB has interviewed this man at length and is presenting his evidence here for all to see. His name is Sai Thein Win, and until recently he was a major in the Burmese army. He was trained in Burma as a defense engineer, and later in Russia as a missile expert. He returned to Burma to work in special factories, built to house modern European machining tools, to build prototypes for missile and nuclear activities.
Sai brought with him some documents and colour photographs of equipment built in these factories. DVB is publishing these photos and has arranged with experts to analyze what they have discovered. Some will no doubt want to weigh in and add their conclusions – no doubt there will be detractors who do not agree with the analysis and our conclusion that these objects are designed for use in a nuclear weapons development program. We invite their criticism and hope that any additional analysis will eventually reinforce our view that Burma is engaged in activities that are prohibited under international agreements.
DVB has hundreds of other photos taken in Burma inside closed facilities, as well as countless other information sources and documents. Background information is given for the very specific information Sai is providing.
In the last two years certain “laptop documents” have surfaced that purport to show that Iran is engaged in a clandestine nuclear program. The origin of these documents is not clear but they have generated a huge international debate over Iran’s intentions. The Burmese documents and photographs brought by Sai are much closer to the original source materials and the route of their disclosure is perfectly clear. The debate over these documents should be interesting in the non-proliferation community.
Who is Sai Thein Win?
Sai was a major in the Burmese army. He saw a DVB documentary about special factories in Burma that had been built by the regime to make components for Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). He worked in two of these factories and felt there was more that needed to be conveyed outside Burma. Sai came out to Thailand to tell the world what he has seen and what he was asked to do. What he has to say adds to the testimony of many other Burmese defectors, but he supplements it with many colour photographs of the buildings and what they are building inside them. In addition he can describe the special demonstrations he attended and can name the people and places associated with the Burmese nuclear program that he visited.
Sai Thein Win reminds us of Mordecai Vanunu, an Israeli technician at the Dimona nuclear site in the Negev desert. Vanunu took many photographs of activities in Israel that were allegedly related to nuclear fuel cycle and weapons development. These photos were published in the Sunday Times in London in 1986. They purportedly showed nuclear weapons activities in Israel at the time. Israel has never confirmed that the images were taken in their facilities; much less that Israel even has a nuclear weapons program. But Vanunu was abducted, tried in an Israeli court and sentenced to many years in prison for divulging state secrets. Sai is providing similar information.
What is the Program that Sai Describes?
Sai tells us that he was tasked to make prototype components for missile and nuclear programs. He is an experienced mechanical engineer and he is capable of describing machining operations very accurately.
Sai has very accurately described a missile fuel pump impeller he made because he is trained as a missile engineer. His information on nuclear programs is based upon many colour photographs and two visits to the nuclear battalion at Thabeikkyin, north of Mandalay. The Nuclear Battalion is the organization charged with building up a nuclear weapons capability in Burma. The Nuclear Battalion will try to do this by building a nuclear reactor and nuclear enrichment capabilities.
It is DVB consultants’ firm belief that Burma is probably not capable of building the equipment they have been charged to build: to manufacture a nuclear weapon, to build a weapons material supply, and to do it in a professional way. But the information provided by Sai and other reporters from Burma clearly indicates that the regime has the intent to go nuclear and it is trying and expending huge resources along the way.
Factories filled with European equipment
Two companies in Singapore with German connections sold many machine tools to the Burmese government, notably the Department of Technical and Vocational Education (DTVE). DTVE is closely associated with the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) which is subordinate to the Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST). A great deal of information is known about people and organizations in this chain. DTVE is probably a front for military purchasing for weapons of mass destruction; that is to say nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and the means to deliver them, largely missiles.
The German government did not have derogatory information about DTVE when the tools were sold and allowed the sale. Fortunately, although the machine tools were very expensive and capable, they were sold without all of the accessories to make the very precision parts required for many missile and nuclear applications. These factories are only making prototypes and first models of equipment for other research organizations. They are not making serial copies for a production program and they do not do research themselves
The companies believed the machines were to be used for educational and vocational training, but the German government, suspicious about the end use, sent a diplomat and an expert to examine the machines that were installed in two special factories in Burma. The expert was suspicious that the machines would be used for uses other than training; there were no students and no universities nearby, and there were no women students. The expert noted that none of the male students wore military uniforms. DVB has examined the photos and some of the “students” who wore civilian clothes during the expert visit wear military uniforms when the Europeans are not there.
Sai provided recognizable photos of the equipment installers and the Germans during their site visit. This is one of many indications that he was at the factories and that his story is very credible. It is also fortunate that the German government was diligent and visited these factories to verify the end use. The Burmese were probably not telling the whole truth, but the visits allow serious verification of the facts.
Sai describes equipment the Nuclear Battalion is building
Sai has provided DVB with many photos of material that the Nuclear Battalion at Thabeikkyin is requesting. One of the most obvious ones is requested in an accompanying secret memo from the No (1) Science and Technology Regiment at Thabeikkyin to the Special Factory Number One near Pyin Oo Lwin. It is for a “bomb reactor” for the “special substance production research department” and there are some sketches of what is wanted as well as pictures. A bomb reactor in a nuclear program is a special device for turning uranium compounds into uranium metal for use in nuclear fuel or a nuclear bomb. The pictures and sketches are of such a bomb reactor and one of the pictures has been subjected to high temperature. The paint is burned off and it has been used. It may be a design from a foreign country or a Burmese design. But the need for a bomb reactor in a Burmese Nuclear Battalion is a strong signal that the project is trying to make uranium metal. Whether the uranium metal is used in a plutonium production reactor or a nuclear device, Burma is exploring nuclear technology that is useful only for weapons.
Sai also provided photos of chemical engineering machinery that can be used for making uranium compounds such as uranium hexafluoride gas, used in uranium enrichment. He describes nozzles used in advanced lasers that separate uranium isotopes into materials used for bombs. He provides pictures of a glove box for mixing reactive materials and furnaces for making uranium compounds. All of these things could have other uses, but taken together, in the context of the Nuclear Battalion, they are for a nuclear weapons program.
Sai has been told that the regime is planning to build a nuclear reactor to make plutonium for a nuclear bomb. He has seen a demonstration of a reactor component called a “control rod” that fits this story. He has been told that the regime plans to enrich uranium for a bomb and he has seen a demonstration of a carbon monoxide laser that will be part of this enrichment process. He has named the individuals he met and heard from at Thabeikkyin and they can be correlated through open source information with their jobs for the Burmese Department of Atomic Energy. Many are frequent visitors to IAEA grant training projects. He himself was tasked to make nozzles for the carbon monoxide laser. He actually knows less about the chemical industrial equipment seen in his photos than we can judge, but his overall story is quite interesting. It is also clear that the demonstrations and explanations that he has seen are quite crude. If they are the best Burma can do they have a long way to go.
How does Sai fit into the overall Burma story?
Sai is a mechanical engineer with experience in machining parts on highly specialized and modern machine tools. These machine tools make items that are very precise and can be used in nuclear energy programs or to make missiles. Sai is not a nuclear expert and he has little to say about the things he made, or that his factory made other than what he was told about their uses. He does provide photos of items that would be used in the nuclear industry to process uranium compounds into forms used in the nuclear weapons development process. These photos or his descriptions could be faked, but they are highly consistent with the uses he suggests.
Sai received a degree as a defense engineer in Burma. He then went to Russia to train in missile technology at the prestigious Bauman Institute in Moscow. He can document all of this. His friends went to Russia as well and studied nuclear and chemical technology at the Moscow Institute of Engineering Physics (MIFI) and the Mendeleev Institute of Chemical Technology. MIFI was the main training institute for Soviet nuclear weapons designers for many years. The ones who studied chemistry at Mendeleev are probably the ones who are most important in building the special equipment that Sai knew about.
Stories about a nuclear reactor in Burma
There have many wild stories about a nuclear reactor in Burma. It is clear that Burma and Russia considered building a 10 Megawatt (10 MW) research reactor in Burma in 2000. It is also clear that this deal was not closed and that Russia announced only intent to build a 10 MW reactor around 2008. This reactor has not been built and Russia is highly unlikely to approve such a deal unless Burma signs a new special agreement with the IAEA. This agreement is called an Additional Protocol and Burma is very unlikely to sign it because it would give the IAEA the access it needs to discover a clandestine nuclear program in Burma.
Furthermore, a 10 MW nuclear reactor is a very small concern for proliferation. Such reactors are common in the world and they are simply too small to be of serious proliferation concern. They can be used to teach students how to work in the nuclear area, but they are not appropriate to rapidly make any serious quantities of plutonium for bombs. IAEA has standards for which reactors are especially suitable for plutonium production and this proposed reactor is below that limit. It is appropriate only for nuclear technology training and the production of medical radioisotopes. Local production of medical isotopes is one of the main reasons for reactors in the 10 MW class around the world. Burma could use this reactor for training, but reports that it bought a 10 MW reactor from Russia are clearly untrue, and stories that they want to build one of their own for a bomb program are nonsense.
The idea that Burma is building a larger reactor, like the alleged one Israel destroyed in Syria, is more interesting. This could be a plutonium production reactor, like the 25 MW (thermal) one that North Korea operated in Yongbyon. The fact that North Korea would consider supporting nuclear programs outside its own borders, in client states like Syria, is of serious concern when evaluating Burma. North Korea does have a memorandum of understanding to help Burma build intermediate range ballistic missiles but their role in the nuclear program is only anecdotal.
Is Burma violating its international agreements?
The most important agreement that Burma must satisfy is its agreement with the IAEA. It signed an agreement with the IAEA in 1995 that it would not pursue nuclear weapons under a carefully defined standard international legal agreement. A supplement to this agreement, a so-called Small Quantities Protocol, said that Burma had no nuclear facilities and very small amounts of nuclear materials, which it did not even have to itemise. As a result of this declaration, which was accepted by the IAEA, there are no nuclear safeguards inspections in Burma. There are some IAEA visits to Burma, because Burma is a recipient of IAEA scientific grant money for humanitarian purposes. Some of these grants train Burmese scientists for nuclear activities that could enable them to produce nuclear materials, but these are not the majority of the grants.
Burma has certified that it has no nuclear facilities, has minimal nuclear materials, and has no plans to change this situation. The information brought by Sai suggests that Burma 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. There is no chance that these activities are directed at a reactor to produce electricity in Burma. This is beyond Burma’s engineering capabilities. It is up to Burma to notify the IAEA if these conditions have changed. Clearly, if it is trying to secretly build a bomb and is breaking these rules it will not be voluntarily notifying the IAEA.
Burma has also purchased high quality machine tools from a German machine tool broker in Singapore that can be used for weapons of mass destruction manufacture. These tools could be used to make many things but they are of a size and quality that are not consistent with student training, the declared end use.
The Department of Technical and Vocational training is a front for weapons procurement and is associated with the DAE and MOST. All of these departments, programs, and people associated with them, should be sanctioned and prohibited from buying anything that could contribute to weapons programs.
What is the state of Burma’s nuclear program?
We have examined the photos of the Burmese nuclear program very carefully and looked at Sai’s evidence. The quality of the parts they are machining is poor. The mechanical drawings to produce these parts in a machine shop are unacceptably poor. If someone really plans to build a nuclear weapon, a very complex device made up of precision components, then Burma is not ready. This could be because the information brought by Sai is not complete or because Burma is playing in the field but is not ready to be serious. In any case, nothing we have seen suggests Burma will be successful with the materials and component we have seen.
What is significant is intent. Burma is trying to mine uranium and upgrade uranium compounds through chemical processing. The photos show several steps in this intent. Burma is reported to be planning and building a nuclear reactor to make plutonium and is trying to enrich uranium to make a bomb. These activities are inconsistent with their signed obligations with the IAEA.
Even if Burma is not able to succeed with their illegal program, they have set off alarm bells in the international community devoted to preventing weapons of mass destruction proliferation. The IAEA should ask Burma if its stated declarations are true. If these allegations appear real there should be follow-up questions and inspections of alleged activities. This effort will be hampered by Burma’s failure to sign the Additional Protocol. Under the current Small Quantities Protocol Agreement, IAEA has no power to inspect in Burma.
Burma is also trying to build medium-range missiles such as SCUDs under a memorandum of understanding with North Korea. SCUDS are not likely to carry a Burmese nuclear warhead because first generation nuclear warheads are usually too heavy and large for the SCUD missile. But there is little reason to embark on SCUD missiles and nuclear weapons other than to threaten ones near-neighbours. Burma is ruled by a junta that has no real political philosophy other than greed. The junta rules for the purpose of enriching a small cadre with the rich resources of the country: teak, gold, jade, other minerals and the labour of the people. Like their model, North Korea, the junta hopes to remain safe from foreign interference by being too dangerous to invade. Nuclear weapons contribute to that immunity.
DVB has interviewed many sources from inside Burma’s military programs. Many other researchers are interviewing former Burmese military people, for example Dictator Watch and Desmond Ball with Phil Thornton. They have provided anecdotal evidence pointing to a Burmese nuclear weapons program. Sai has clarified these reports and added to them with colour photos and personal descriptions of his visits to the Nuclear Battalion. He trained in Moscow in missile technology along with friends who trained in nuclear technology who later vanished into the Nuclear Battalion of Thabeikkyin. All were trained in some of Russia’s first quality institutes.
The total picture is very compelling. Burma is trying to build pieces of a nuclear program, specifically a nuclear reactor to make plutonium and a uranium enrichment program. Burma has a close partnership with North Korea. North Korea has recently been accused of trying to build a nuclear reactor inside Syria to make plutonium for a nuclear program in Syria or North Korea. The timeframe of North Korean assistance to Syria is roughly the same as Burma so the connection may not be coincidental.
If Burma is trying to develop nuclear weapons the international community needs to react. There needs to be a thorough investigation of well-founded reporting. If these reports prove compelling, then there need to be sanctions of known organizations in Burma and for equipment for any weapons of mass destruction.
* Kelley, 63, a former Los Alamos weapons scientist, was an IAEA director from 1992 to 1993, and again from 2001 to 2005. Based in Vienna, Austria, he conducted weapons inspections in Libya, Iraq, and South Africa, and compliance inspections in Egypt, Turkey, South Korea, Taiwan, Syria, Tanzania, Pakistan, India, and Congo, among others.
Ethnic leaders dividing community: critics
Irrawaddy: Thu 3 Jun 2010
Seven leading ethnic political leaders inside and outside Burma have been criticized for their election activities by a Rangoon-based group called the Burma Ethnic Politics Watch Network (BEPWN).
“We strongly condemned these seven people and their political movement, which helps the Burmese regime stay in power and delay democratic reform in Burma,” said a statement released by the BEPWN on May 22.
“Their actions could divide unity among the ethnic political movement inside and outside Burma and also mislead underst
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