[Readingroom] News on Burma - 15/6/10
- Pro-junta group to guard ballots
- Suu Kyi ‘happy with party unity’
- Sons of top generals handed fuel-station permits
- Will the new Burma envoy focus on engagement or sanctions?
- Burma’s nuke wish needs response
- Hapless doesn’t mean harmless
- What If Burma goes nuclear?
- Press Statement of Ministry of Foreign Affairs regarding nuclear programme
- Suu Kyi says Burmese have right not to vote
- Mon party to push for free market, development
- Oil companies financing nuclear threat in Burma, refusing transparency
- Secrets will out
- PM’s party appoints Chinese businessman
- 20,000 trees planted for Suu Kyi, 65
- Burma elections ‘on 10 October’
- Burma’s authoritarian upgrade: 1990-2010
- Child soldiers spotted in Chin state army camp
- Burma to fix gas prices
- Inside Burma’s black box
- New tempests over Burma as U.N. aid rolls in
- “We are cheap labour, we have no rights”
- ILO targets Myanmar’s military over forced labour
- China plundering natural resources in Burma
- Burma economy in ‘artificial deficit’
- No clear sign Myanmar wants help with vote
- Burma’s military budget to increase significantly
Pro-junta group to guard ballots – Ahunt Phone Myat
Democratic Voice of Burma: Mon 14 Jun 2010
Members of the junta proxy Union and Solidarity Development Association (USDA) are being trained in lieu of their role in monitoring ballot boxes during Burma’s elections this year.Workshops are being conducted in Rangoon and Mandalay division and Sagaing, Shan, Mon and Arakan states, by the Election Commission (EC), according to a retired government official in Sagaing division who is close to the USDA.
The government-appointed Electoral Commission has been charged as the supreme authority during polls, rumoured for October this year.
The reports will likely heighten fears about the integrity of the elections: the USDA is closely tied to the government, and is believed to be the group that spawned the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), which is headed by Burmese prime minister Thein Sein and has been widely tipped to win the elections.
Furthermore, the EC head, Thein Soe, said in May that international election monitors “would not be welcome” in Burma. Critics of the ruling junta have derided the polls as a sham aimed at extending military rule in the country.
“USDA members…and those who are to become ward-level EC [members] are being trained; we believe there is a motivation for these people to guard the ballot stations to make sure the USDP wins,” said Phyo Min Thein of the Union Democracy Party, which has registered for the elections.
“Given the circumstances, questions need to be asked as to what procedures will be carried out to ensure free and fair elections, and also how fair the EC will be.”
The same training is also being given to village, ward and town-level government authorities, as well as judges and administrators, said a government worker in Taunggyi, capital of Burma’s northeastern Shan state.
Similar concerns were raised around the time of the 2008 constitution, when the government conducted training workshops for proxy groups to ensure the smooth ratification of what was widely considered an unfair and controversial procedure.
“During the constitution referendum, [authorities] were told to make sure that 92 percent votes were in favour, by any means,” said the Sagaing official. “Some villages used ordinary voting procedures and collected about 60 percent ‘yes’ votes, but [the government] ordered them to change the results to 92 percent [in favour].”
Their were reports around the time of the constitution referendum, which began barely a week after cyclone Nargis struck Burma’s southern coast, that voters were forced to mark their choice with a pencil.
The constitution then set the ball rolling for the elections this year, in which around a quarter of parliamentary seats have already been awarded to the military and which contributed to the boycott of the opposition National League for Democracy party.
Suu Kyi ‘happy with party unity’ – Salai Han Thar San
Mizzima News: Mon 14 Jun 2010
New Delhi – Burma’s pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi is glad her National League for Democracy party’s member are united despite its automatic dissolution in accordance with the junta’s one-sided electoral laws, the opposition leader said in a two-hour meeting with a lawyer and engineers on Friday.Suu Kyi’s comments came during a meeting with her lawyer to discuss the revocation by the Rangoon civic body of a permit allowing her to dismantle a badly damaged wooden building inside her compound on University Avenue Road, Rangoon Division, where she is being held under house arrest.
“I’m very glad that all of NLD members, including young members and women, are very united even at the difficult time”, lawyer and NLD central executive committee member Nyan Win told Mizzima, quoting Suu Kyi.
“She said it was the duty of government, political parties and people to raise the young people,” Nyan Win said. “She said when we provide moral support to nations’ young, it must be done with generosity and comradeship.”
Suu Kyi also said party members needed to help the people clearly understand democracy. According to her, political parties and the people were responsible for understanding democratic values and putting them into practice, Nyan Win said.
Authorities had allowed Suu Kyi to meet on June 11 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. lawyer Nyan Win and engineers Khun Thar Myint and Htin Kyaw, whom Suu Kyi assigned to monitor renovations at her crumbling villa beside Inya Lake.
The Nobel Peace laureate’s compound at No. 54-56 University Avenue Road in Bahan Township comprises the main building, a badly damaged wooden house and two huts – one a gatehouse and another adjacent to the lake.
The wooden house is 25 feet (eight metres) east of the main building and is overrun with bushes. The Rangoon City Development Committee approved on June 4 Suu Kyi’s application to have it demolished but the permit was revoked the following day.
Nyan Win explained the city’s reasoning: “They [the Rangoon committee] said that as the house [compound] was subject to an inheritance case … if the wooden house was destroyed, the compound would lose its original [historic] character.”
He said he would submit an appeal to the Rangoon mayor next week.
Meanwhile, Suu Kyi said members should celebrate her 65th birthday on June 19 at the home of Mogoke member of parliament May Hnin Kyi at 10 Miles Gone in Mingaladon Township, Rangoon, Nyan Win said, amid fears that a gathering at party headquarters would provoke a crackdown by the junta.
“In accordance with her [Suu Kyi] request, we will donate books and pencils to underprivileged students [at the anniversary celebrations]”, Nyan Win said.
Suu Kyi will have to spend her birthday in detention amid a continuing 18-month sentence imposed for “entertaining” uninvited American visitor John Yettaw, who on May 4 last year had swum uninvited across Inya Lake and stayed at her house for two nights. She was similarly forced to spend her 64th birthday in a special room at Insein Prison as the prosecution over Yettaw’s visit was being processed.
Yettaw’s trespass occurred two weeks before Suu Kyi’s scheduled release from house arrest on May 27 last year.
Sons of top generals handed fuel-station permits
Mizzima News: Mon 14 Jun 2010
Chiang Mai – Burma’s ruling military junta has issued petrol-station permits to the sons of Senior General Than Shwe and General Thura Shwe Mann, and junta cronies, according to an Energy Ministry report. Myanmar Naing Group, owned by Than Shwe’s son Tun Naing Shwe, has obtained permission to run a total of six petrol stations in Rangoon and Mandalay divisions, and in Shan State, a Ministry of Energy report received by Mizzima reveals.
Tun Naing Shwe’s company also operating jade-mining business in Pharkant in Kachin State, in the country’s north. He holds the controlling share of J-Donut outlet in Rangoon, a retail pastry shop styled on Dunkin’ Donuts and frequented by the children of Burma’s corrupt elite.
Since Burma’s oil sector was privatised on May 15, Ayar Shwewa/Shwe Yamone and Zaygabar, linked to sons of military chief of staff, Thura Shwe Mann – Aung Thet Mann and Toe Naing Mann – were given permission to open private petrol stations. The former company was licensed to run 12 stations, the latter, two.
The application for Zaygabar’s license to run the two stations is under Toe Naing Mann’s despite the company being owned by his father-in-law, Khin Shwe.
Concessions to the likely lucrative petrol-station business went to junta nationalist social organisation, the Union Solidarity and Development Association, and Myanmar Economic Holdings – a company that feeds income to the junta – which received 15 and 14 stations respectively.
The other big junta crony companies that have been awarded petrol station licenses are: Tay Za’s Htoo Trading, Shwetaung Development, Shwe Than Lwin, Nilar Trading, Asia World and Kanbawza.
Will the new Burma envoy focus on engagement or sanctions? – Josh Rogin
Foreign Policy: Mon 14 Jun 2010
The Obama administration is getting ready to select a new special envoy to Burma, who if confirmed could take up his post just after the Burmese junta holds elections the administration has already said won’t be legitimate.An administration official told The Cable, “The Department of State is reviewing several candidates now and will be in consultation shortly with Capitol Hill on the pick to be selected.” The current list contains several names, and State is looking at established diplomats, former policymakers, think tank wonks, those with experience on Capitol Hill, etc., the official said.
It’s been seven months since the Obama administration announced its new Burma policy, which calls for limited engagement with the brutal regime while keeping sanctions in place. The leading player on Burma policy, Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell, has been to the country twice in his current role. The other most active public official on Burma, Senate Foreign Relations Asia Subcommittee chair Jim Webb, D-VA, has gone once.
The idea was to feel out Burmese leaders to try to make incremental progress leading up to the upcoming elections later this year that a future special envoy could build on. But none of that seems to be happening, and Campbell acknowledged upon leaving Burma May 10 that the elections are likely to be a farce.
“What we have seen to date leads us to believe that these elections will lack international legitimacy,” Campbell said following his last visit.
Webb canceled his recently planned trip altogether, only days after a leaked U.N. report was said to accuse North Korea of using several countries and companies, including those in Burma, to export nuclear and missile technology.
The current administration thinking is to lay low until after the elections and then try to reengage with the Burmese regime after that. They calculate that putting the election in the rearview mirror will eliminate it as a source of contention.
“What’s happened inside the country is that they’re completely focused on this upcoming exercise that they are calling an election,” the administration official said. “Our best opportunities for some form of engagement will come after the elections, even though we don’t believe they are credible.”
Experts point out that even after the election, the issue of Burma’s suspected nuclear cooperation with North Korea will remain.
“The administration has not denied that there are serious transactions between Burma and North Korea that are troubling,” said Michael Green, former National Security Council senior director for Asia and President George W. Bush’s nominee for special envoy to Burma. “In the midst of this engagement from the Obama administration, the junta just went ahead on these kinds of deals.”
The administration, led by Campbell, approached the Burmese government last year with a set of requests: for Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi to be released, for the government to reach out in some way to ethnic minorities groups, and for a reduction in government-sponsored violence.
“State was ought there on a limb, but they thought if they could get something concrete from the junta they could justify further engagement,” said Green. “But the fact is they got nothing, nada.”
Green said he is out of the running for envoy, having seen his nomination languish at the end of the Bush administration and then meet its end in 2009 when then-subcommittee chairwoman Barbara Boxer, D-CA, refused to move it forward pending an unspecified favor from the White House that she did not get.
Everybody liked Green, but the Obama team needs its own person for the job — someone who can quietly probe for diplomatic openings while avoiding negative blowback from Capitol Hill.
And therein lies the rub. Senators, especially Republican senators, will want an envoy whose focus is on enforcing existing sanctions against Burma. The State Department needs someone who can continue the engagement track.
“There’s an anomaly in the situation,” said one longtime Washington Burma hand. “The legislation very clearly calls for senatorial approval. But the legislation also talks about direct engagement with the Burmese.”
Webb wrote June 8 to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to “strongly recommend” Eric John, the current U.S. ambassador to Thailand, who had some experience dealing with North Korea when he was a political officer in the U.S. Embassy in Seoul.
But John’s one noted interaction with the Burmese junta, in Beijing in June 2006, didn’t produce any results. Also, some privately question his handling of the Bangkok embassy during the recent period of severe political unrest there.
The administration will have to keep an eye on Webb, a key senator in this issue, as the envoy selection process finishes up. Officials would also be wise to keep an eye on Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY, and Sam Brownback, R-KS, both of whom are sure to want to have a say in this debate because of their keen interest in both North Korean proliferation and human rights.
Overall, the administration will have to decide what else it can do to persuade Burma’s leaders to clean up their act — and whether further sanctions may be warranted.
“We’ve done certain things and they’ve done certain things, but neither is sufficient from either point of view,” the Burma hand said. “So we’re in a deadlock.”
Burma’s nuke wish needs response – Kavi Chongkittavorn
China Post: Mon 14 Jun 2010
U.S. Senator James Webb, Chairman of the East Asia and Pacific Affairs Subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, abruptly postponed his visit to Burma on June 3 — only a few hours before his scheduled flight–after learning of a report about Burma’s nuclear ambition. It was a bad time to do that, he said, due to new allegations the Rangoon junta leaders were collaborating with Pyongyang to develop a nuclear program. A few days ago, after his return to the U.S., Scot Marciel, ASEAN ambassador said that if the allegation is true, it would impact on the stability and security in the region.Webb would not take such a drastic step if he just ignored the report produced by Norway-based Democratic Voice of Burma through Aljazeera that alleged Burma is moving toward nuclear technology. Since last August, he has miraculously widened the U.S. engagement with Burma and created storms of controversies following the first high-level visit by any U.S. political figure. He has always hoped to bring peaceful changes and prosperity to Burma as he once did in Vietnam.
However, the 10-month intensified dialogues and contacts between the U.S. and Burma, symbolized by the two trips of Kurt Campbell, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific Affairs, have not yet produced breakthroughs or the kind of regime that the U.S. or the international community would like to see — a regime that promises an inclusive, free and fair election with creditable international polls monitoring. Equally important on the U.S. agenda is to ensure that there is no violation of the U.N. Security Resolution 1874 that imposes sanctions against North Korea. Indeed, these endeavors have actually turned to continued frustration.
Worse is the prospect of stronger Burma-North Korea relations. Both are rogue states, which used to be enemies for the past 23 years. Now they are each other’s best friends amid growing international isolation and tightening economic sanctions. Thanks to Pyongyang’s willingness and foreign-exchanges need, Burma’s nuclear confidence has shot up that one day it would have the kind of bargaining power enjoyed by other nuclear aspirants.
After decades of complacency, the Thai security apparatus, especially the National Security Council (NSC), have finally paid more attention to its long-standing assumption that Burma does not and will not have the capacity to assemble a nuclear bomb. The main argument was very simplistic — Burma is poor and backward so it is highly impossible for the country to embark on the project. In addition, persons familiar with the NSC analyses on Burma would immediately recognize the narrative pattern of “appeasement” and “don’t rock the boat” syndrome in handling this Western neighbor.
The often cited justifications are fragile security along the porous 2004 kilometers border and Thailand’s growing dependency on natural gas from Gulf of Martaban. Last year, the Foreign Ministry asked energy-related agencies and their top decision-makers to come up with policy options to reduce energy needs from Burma and other neighbors. So far, they have not yet done it arguing much was at stake as a lump sum of money have been invested already in the natural-gas related development projects with Burma. Thailand imports an estimate of US$880-million worth of energy from Burma annually. From their vantage point, preservation of status quo at any cost is desirable fearing the country’s future energy security would be compromised.
Additional problem is the deep-rooted fear of Burma’s aggression (what the Burmese generals can and willing to do against the country and its people). Anytime the word “Pha-mah” — meaning Burma in Thai — is mentioned to ordinary Thais, not to mention the authorities, they would go hysterical with negative comments and endless condemnation. It immediately would conjure up the heartless burning of Ayuthya, which took place in 1774 — some 236 years ago. However, to the Thais the total annihilation of the Siamese capital is as vivid as before with the aid of numerous historical books, dramas, folk tales and words of mouth. One would think that such phobia should serve as a kind of energizer to consolidate the Thai security officials and related agencies to look for common policy options to counter Burma’s move. It has not happened.
Strangely enough, the Thai military’s intelligence officials, who have been working closely with the U.S. and Australian counterparts in tracking the junta’s nuclear ambition for the past decade, know all along this dangerous ambition but they have not shared information and done serious assessments with the energy sector.
No wonder, Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya is very concerned as he is well informed of Burma’s well-kept secret. It is possible that Thailand, along with other ASEAN members, might raise the nuclear weapon program at the ASEAN foreign ministerial meeting next month in Hanoi (July 13-19) asking Rangoon to further clarify the issue. Seriously, nobody expects Burma to tell the truth. But ASEAN needs to put on record as its reputation is at stake, especially at the time the grouping wants to increase its profile to promote peace and stability as well as economic well-being internationally. After all, Burma was among the 10 signatories of the region’s first no-nuke treaty, the Southeast Asian Nuclear Weapon Free Zone. ASEAN members are also parties to the Non Proliferation Treaty, but quite a few members have not yet ratified it.
The Obama Administration has been pushing for a nuclear-free world and trying to rid the world of potential nuclear terrorists. Expectation in the region is high that the U.S. would continue to pressure Burma internationally to comply with the relevant U.N. resolutions as well as any future engagement of the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency to inspect all nuclear-related allegations. Sooner than later, ASEAN must take up Burma’s nuclear plan and other global issues to iron out differences in order to forge common views and positions, which the ASEAN foreign ministers have to submit to their leaders at the ASEAN Summit in October in Hanoi.
Hapless doesn’t mean harmless – Christian Caryl
Foreign Policy: Mon 14 Jun 2010
Burma has a nuclear program. It’s a mess, but it’s still a nuclear program.If you’re interested in international security, I strongly recommend that you check out a new documentary titled Burma’s Nuclear Ambitions. The film comes from the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), an Oslo-based nongovernmental organization that has made a name for itself as a source of good independent reporting on events inside that benighted country. The reporters at DVB spent the past five years collecting the material for this project, which makes a persuasive case that the generals who run Burma (aka Myanmar) have spent vast sums on a program to develop weapons of mass destruction. Robert Kelley, an ex-U.S. nuclear scientist and former U.N. nuclear inspector who collaborated with the filmmakers, told me that their effort offers a unique opportunity to blow the whistle on a rogue state’s nuclear plans earlier rather than later. “This is a small program at early stages,” he says. “I hope that by releasing this information we’re letting the cat of the bag, and that no one can put it back now. There should be a public debate.”
There will be — though so far a lot of major media outlets (including the New York Times and CNN) have notably failed to pick up on the story. And that’s a pity — not only because this scoop has broad ramifications for Southeast Asia and the future of the long-suffering Burmese people in particular, but also because it will almost certainly raise new concerns about the scandalous ineffectiveness of the existing international system to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons. (Yep, looks like the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has been caught asleep at the wheel once again.)
The documentary — which aired earlier this month on the English-language version of Al Jazeera — shows how Burma’s reigning generals have used their profits from the sale of natural resources to fund the purchase of sophisticated equipment and the training of thousands of Burmese engineers abroad (mostly in Russia). The DVB reporters had been plugging away at the story for years without getting beyond the level of tantalizing hearsay. They’d heard that the government was spending billions on vast underground command centers and an underground fiber-optic communications system to go with them. They’d learned about the attempts to train Burmese engineers in various military-related disciplines outside the country, and they knew — like the U.S. government — that the generals in the test-tube capital of Naypyidaw were engaging in various kinds of suspicious cooperation with North Korea.
But they still didn’t have hard evidence. So they decided to beam a message back into Burma by satellite, asking for sources to come forward. In February of this year someone finally responded. An army major by the name of Sai Thein Win defected to Thailand, bringing with him a trove of photos and detailed knowledge of a military-run defense plant where he had worked as a manager. Sai, who had spent five years in Russia studying engineering, revealed how he and his colleagues at the factory had used German-made precision machine tools to manufacture rocket parts. At another installation he saw — and photographed — equipment that was allegedly intended for uranium enrichment. (Kelley, who served as a consultant to the DVB production, confirmed that it was highly likely that the equipment shown in the photos was being used for nuclear purposes.)
And of course there is the highly incriminating back story of North Korean involvement in Burma. It should be said that, though the DVB documentary includes photos showing purported North Korean advisors giving the Burmese help with large-scale tunneling (one of the few areas in which the North Koreans have world-class expertise), it doesn’t provide any solid evidence that Kim Jong Il has shared his nuclear technology with the generals. That isn’t to say there isn’t good reason to harbor suspicions, though. The film does include photos of the Burmese regime’s No. 3 general visiting his jovial counterparts in Pyongyang in November 2008. (The person who passed the photos on has apparently since been shot.) Bertil Lintner, an expert on Burmese politics who also collaborated with the filmmakers, says that Western diplomats have verified the presence of North Korean technicians at a Burmese missile production facility.
And what, for example, was on board the Kang Nam 1, the North Korean ship freighter that was sailing for a Burmese port last year until the U.S. Navy persuaded it to turn around? U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed concern about deepening ties between the two pariah states at a meeting of regional leaders last year. In May, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell issued a statement calling on the Burmese leaders to comply with the U.N. sanctions imposed on North Korea after Pyongyang’s nuclear test a few years back.
The question that arises from all this, of course, is why Burma would want to get into the WMD business in the first place. The country has no threatening neighbors, no regional rivals that want to take it over. But that, say the experts, would be to underestimate the regime’s xenophobia and pathological suspicions of the outside world. The film offers clues. One Burmese ex-diplomat defector interviewed on camera puts it like this: “In 1992, when General Than Shwe came to power, he thought that if we followed the North Korean example, we would not need to take account of America or even need to care about China. In other words, when they have nuclear energy and weapons, others will respect us.” Burma analyst Lintner points to the domestic context as well. “According to the people I have talked to, the Burmese generals believe they need a strong deterrent to remain in power, against the outside world as well as their own population.” In 2007, it should be recalled, hundreds of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets to protest against the country’s leadership. If having nukes would make it that much harder for outsiders to pressure them, that would, conceivably, make life harder for internal opponents as well.
We could, perhaps, take some consolation from the fact that the Burmese WMD program doesn’t seem to be terribly sophisticated. Geoffrey Forden, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology expert who examined the evidence on the Burmese missile program, gives them five to 10 years to get a rocket launched and built — and much longer to come up with one that would have serious range. Kelley says that, based on the evidence, the nuclear program looks even less serious. The generals don’t appear to have any coherent strategy for actually making a functioning nuclear weapon. The only enrichment technique they seem to be using so far is the laser isotope method, which several developed countries have tried and dropped as unduly complicated. Kelley speculates that bureaucrat-scientists might be leading the generals on a bit (something, he says, that’s been known to happen in other countries where political leaders are eager to get their hands on powerful weapons). One of the defectors tells a story about the scientists demonstrating a laser to visiting higher-ups by burning a hole in a piece of wood. One of the attending generals was so discomfited by this mysterious device that he immediately asked them to stop.
Yet there is still plenty of cause to worry. For one thing, the generals have plenty of cash. Over the next few years they’ll be earning tens of billions of dollars from natural gas sales to the Chinese — and much of that money is apparently slated for the nascent WMD program. And even though the Russians halted work on a promised reactor project when they started to harbor doubt about Burmese intentions, it’s clear that there’s little the international community can do to prevent the junta from doing what it wants inside the country. (It turns out that the IAEA basically gave Burma a pass a few years ago when the country essentially declared itself a nonnuclear power, and has little leverage to exert as a result.) Our best bet, it would seem, is that the brutal, paranoid, and astrology-driven generals who run Burma really are just as wasteful and incompetent as they appear to be from the outside. So why doesn’t that seem especially comforting?
What If Burma goes nuclear? – Nehginpao Kipgen
Asian Tribune: Mon 14 Jun 2010
The Burmese military regime’s desire to become a nuclear power is an alarming development for the Burmese people, especially ethnic minorities, as well as nations which like to see a nuclear free world.The documentary, broadcasted by the Al Jazeera news network on June 4, is an indication of how the Burmese military junta has planned to acquire nuclear weapons, with the help of North Korea.
Both Burma and North Korea, along with other totalitarian regimes or dictatorships such as Belarus, Cuba, Iran, and Zimbabwe, were identified as “outposts of tyranny” in 2005 by Condoleezza Rice, the then U.S. secretary of state.
The Al Jazeera report featured extensive documentation, including photos and blueprints of tunnels and suspected nuclear facilities. The materials which were provided by a military defector, a former army major, add credibility to the suspicion that Burma is pursuing a nuclear program.
The revelation of such covert activities, by its own military rank at this juncture, is something the Burmese military generals would not like to have happened. Not only has the junta denied such allegations, but also supported establishing a Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapons Free Zone (SEANWFZ).
The joint statement of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the United States of America, in November 2009 “welcomed the efforts of the president of the United States in promoting international peace and security including the vision of a nuclear weapons free world.”
The ASEAN-US leadership also “agreed to work towards preventing the spread of nuclear weapons and work together to build a world without nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction.”
What could have prompted Burma to build nuclear facilities is an interesting subject. North Korea has managed to defy the U.N. sanctions, and has now considered itself as a nuclear power. Pyongyang flexes its military muscles against the threat of any attacks by Seoul and Washington.
The lack of a strong coordinated international response, despite U.N. sanctions, has emboldened North Korea. Amidst international condemnations, North Korea still enjoys the support of China, its closest communist ally which is also a U.N. Security Council member.
Such ineffectiveness on the part of the international community to prevent nuclear proliferation has encouraged the Burmese military junta. The military generals believe that their nuclear ambition will not be blocked by China and Russia – the two veto-wielding powers of the U.N. Security Council.
If Burma becomes a nuclear nation, it will make the military leaders more arrogant and intransigent. Having no foreign enemy, the junta will not hesitate to use its power to suppress the county’s ethnic armed movements, which are fighting for autonomy in their respective territories.
The hope of establishing a federal Union of Burma will become slimmer, if not infeasible. The voice of the international community on human rights abuses and exploitation of other democratic rights will also have lesser impact on the military regime.
Moreover, a nuclear Burma will likely make Southeast Asia insecure, unstable, and possibly might pave the way for nuclear arms race in the region.
In the larger interest of the international community and the Burmese people, it is important that the International Atomic Energy Agency investigates the report and act responsibly to maintain peace and stability.
ASEAN should abjure its traditional policy of non-interference, especially when an action of its own member state can disturb the peaceful existence of the entire populace in the region.
It is expected that the United States government, in its capacity, will work with the international community to prevent Burma from acquiring nuclear weapons. However, North Korea is an example where the U.S. has a limited role to play when it comes to international crisis.
Unless it is for a peaceful purpose, nuclear powers such as China, India and Russia need to work together with other world powers to prevent Burma from acquiring destructive weapons. Proliferation of nuclear bombs, especially in the hands of totalitarian regimes or military dictatorships, should be considered a threat to humanity.
It is important that the Obama administration appoints a special envoy for Burma, which was authorized by the U.S. congress during George Bush’s presidency in 2008. The White House should consider the model of the North Korean six-party talk, involving the United States, European Union, ASEAN, China, India, and Burma.
Burma pursuing nuclear weapons is a violation of ASEAN’s collective commitment for establishing SEANWFZ and nuclear weapons free world. It is also a violation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1874 (2009) for North Korea to export nuclear materials.
A nuclear Burma is a grave danger to its own ethnic minorities who have suffered racially and psychologically, in the hands of the military junta, for decades.
* Nehginpao Kipgen is a researcher on the rise of political conflicts in modern Burma (1947-2004) and general secretary of the U.S.-based Kuki International Forum (www.kukiforum.com)
Press Statement of Ministry of Foreign Affairs on unfounded allegations against Myanmar regarding nuclear programme
New Light of Myanmar: Mon 14 Jun 2010
Nay Pyi Taw – Following is a Press Statement issued today by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on unfounded allegations against Myanmar regarding the nuclear programme. The full text of the statement is as follows:-
In recent days, the international media reported allegations that Myanmar has been attempting to develop a nuclear programme in collaboration with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea with an aim to acquire nuclear weapons.
Those reports are merely groundless allegations with political motives to exert pressure on Myanmar.
Moreover, as these accusations are fallacious information originated from media sources and individuals who are seeking to undermine the national interest of Myanmar, and are also based on a single source of some deserters, fugitives and exiles, the news reports lack reliability, objectivity and impartiality. Myanmar did not see the need to respond to these groundless accusations as they are totally far from the realities in Myanmar.
Following the adoption of US government’s engagement policy towards Myanmar, the US Senator Jim Webb and Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell visited Myanmar and started the engagement process between the two countries.
At a time of resumption of engagement between Myanmar and the US, those unfounded allegations were made up by the anti-government elements in collaboration with news media with political purpose in a timely manner. Besides it was also an attempt to tarnish the image of the Myanmar government and to disrupt its on-going political process at a time when the government is exerting all out efforts to holding general elections for democratic transformation. As a result of surfacing of those allegations, Senator Jim Webb who was scheduled to visit Myanmar in early June has postponed his planned visit.
Being a member of the United Nations, Myanmar always respects and abides by resolutions and decisions adopted by the United Nations. Moreover, it has been actively participating in the UN Conference on Disarmament in Geneva as a founding member of the Conference.
Myanmar is also a party to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and has signed the Safeguard Agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in 1995. At the regional level, Myanmar as a member of ASEAN, acceded to the Treaty on Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapons Free Zone.
In its drive for the advancement of science and technology and the use of nuclear energy for peaceful purpose in health and education sectors, Myanmar had had an agreement with Russia for the construction of a 10-Megawatt Nuclear Research Reactor, in addition to sending trainees to other countries including Russia.
However, the plan was suspended without implementation due to inadequacy of resources and the government’s concern for misunderstanding it my cause among international community. In fact, that project was arranged to be implemented under the Safeguard Agreement of IAEA.
It is necessary to view separately with a clear differentiation between peaceful use of nuclear energy and production of nuclear weapons.
Myanmar has all along supported the legitimate rights of every state to the use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. While supporting non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, Myanmar supports the principles of non-politicizing the NPT and nondiscrimination against developing countries in the NPT implementation.
Myanmar has constantly contributed to regional peace and stability in collaboration with ASEAN member countries. Myanmar will never engage in activities that would affect regional peace and stability.
Exerting pressure on Myanmar based on groundless nuclear accusations and making allegations with political intent to intervene in the internal affairs or with geopolitical strategic purpose will in no way contribute to the regional and international peace and stability.
Myanmar is just a developing country which lacks sufficient infrastructures, technology and financial resources to make nuclear weapons. Some experts concluded that Myanmar is not in a position to make nuclear weapons.
Based on these facts, it is reiterated that the allegations of Myanmar trying to develop nuclear weapons are unfounded and no efforts have been made to do so.
Myanmar only wants peace and has no ambition to become a nuclear power state.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Nay Pyi Taw
Suu Kyi says Burmese have right not to vote – Ba Kaung
Irrawaddy: Fri 11 Jun 2010
Burmese people have the right not to vote in the upcoming election, detained Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi told her lawyer on Friday. She also commented on US Sen. Jim Webb’s support of the election.“Daw Suu said that just as the people have the right to vote, they also have the right not to vote,” Suu Kyi’s lawyer Nyan Win told The Irrawaddy shortly after meeting with her on Friday afternoon.
Although her comment seems to allude to the possibility that she and her now-disbanded National League for Democracy (NLD) may call for a boycott of the planned election, Nyan Win declined to elaborate on her comment.
During a two-hour meeting that focused on legal issues relating to repairs to her home, Suu Kyi also said that she believed Webb’s views on the election were his personal opinion only, and did not reflect his official position as chairman of the East Asian and Pacific Affairs Subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.
Webb, a strong advocate of US engagement with the Burmese regime, canceled his scheduled visit to Burma earlier this month amid fresh reports that junta was trying to develop nuclear weapons.
On Wednesday, the Democratic lawmaker called for support of Burma’s election, saying it was a step forward and that the junta would allow at least some opposition figures to stand for seats.
Nyan Win also said that Suu Kyi heard about Burma’s alleged nuclear program, but she did not wish to make any comment on the issue at this point, as there was not enough information available.
Suu Kyi decided against her party re-registering under the regime’s “unjust” election laws. The NLD was dissolved in May for its failure to meet the regime’s party registration deadline.
Mon party to push for free market, development – Phanida
Mizzima News: Fri 11 Jun 2010
Chiang Mai – All Mon Region Democracy Party chairman Nai Ngwe Thein said that in parliament it would demand a free-market economy and industrial development with foreign investment. Observers say the party is guaranteed seats as it is the only Mon party in the state and it will only contest constituencies inhabited by the Mon ethnic group. But they add however that per-parliamentarian monetary limits could work against the party’s building much of a mandate.
“We will strive for an appropriate free-market economy, attracting more foreign investment in the country and developing modes of production with modern technology,” Nai Ngwe Thein told Mizzima. “We can able to develop our country only if we can achieve industrial development.”
He said the economy of the state was such that people could survive on agriculture and rubber plantations for their livelihood but inter-regional and intra-state trading in was so poor so that many people had sought opportunities elsewhere.
“In Mon State, agriculture, rubber plantations and [other] cash crops are good but trade is so poor so that many people leave to find work in other countries,” he said. “We [members of parliament] will demand a free-market economy in our country.”
Nai Ngwe Thein career has included postings as former assistant Mon State education officer, Kachin State and Pegu Division education officer and basic education department for Upper Burma administrative director.
The party’s vice-chairman is Nai Hla Aung. Its main objectives for the country are: complete restoration of democratic and human rights in the country; solid ethnic unity based on equality and the right of self-determination; genuine multiparty democracy and democratic systems in the country.
Moreover party members will strive to: establish and perpetuate a genuine Union, eradicate corruption and bribery; work for social development and build a peaceful world social order, party sources said.
The party will contest in areas mostly inhabited by Mon people such as 10 townships in Mon State, two townships in Karen State, one township in Tanintharyi Division, one township in Pegu Division totaling 15 townships.
Currently 53 candidates were shortlisted for the upcoming general elections but party sources said it was yet to be decided how many candidates would stand.
Most members were former government employees or former New Mon State Party (NMSP) members, and almost all are ethnic Mon, the party said.
The minimum party membership requirement at the national level is 1,000 so the party has been electioneering in Ye and Thanphyu Zayat townships since early this month by presenting their party policies and intended programmes.
Local military intelligence personnel were reportedly monitoring the party’s campaigning and questioning its canvassers.
As it is the sole ethnic Mon party in Mon State, Nai Ngwe Thein firmly believed the people were attracted much interested in a party comprising ethnic Mon.
Political observers speculated that former NMSP central executive committee members Nai Chan Twe and two central committee members who recently resigned from their posts would join the AMRDP.
If these former NMSP leaders could accept the AMRDP platform they might join the party by resigning from their party, Nai Ngwe Thein said. But sources said they have not yet approached the new Mon party.
A total 42 political parties have applied for party registration and re-registration with the Union Election Commission as of June 8. Out of those, 37 parties have been allowed to form and five parties successful in the 1990 general election have been allowed to be re-registered. The remaining five parties have yet to receive such permission from the commission.
Oil companies financing nuclear threat in Burma, refusing transparency – Matthew Smith
Huffington Post: Fri 11 Jun 2010
The world has a new nuclear threat on its hands; the first ever in Southeast Asia.According to a disturbing five-year study released Friday by the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), carried on Al Jazeera, and vetted by a nuclear scientist and former director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the ruling military junta in Burma (Myanmar) is “mining uranium, converting it to uranium compounds for reactors and bombs, and is trying to build a reactor and or an enrichment plant that could only be useful for a bomb.”
This follows a UN report leaked last month claiming North Korea is exporting nuclear and ballistic missile technology to Burma using intermediaries, shell companies, and overseas criminal networks designed to circumvent UN sanctions against Pyongyang.
A key question underlies the scandal: how could Burma, Southeast Asia’s poorest country, possibly afford to finance a nuclear program?
The answer involves the military regime’s partnerships with multinational companies, including some of the world’s largest and best known oil firms from the US, France, Japan, China, India, Thailand and elsewhere.
In 2009, my colleagues and I at EarthRights International (ERI) calculated that the Yadana natural gas pipeline — operated by the French oil giant Total, with the American company Chevron, and the Thai company PTTEP — has generated nearly $8 billion dollars in gas sales since payments commenced just a decade ago. Transporting Burmese natural gas from the Andaman Sea across Burma to neighboring Thailand, ERI estimated that from 2000-2008, billions of dollars of that revenue went directly to Burma’s ruling junta, a claim the companies have never denied.
Compounding the junta’s notoriously low domestic spending on health and education, in 2009 we also documented that portions of the country’s gas dollars found their way into private offshore bank accounts in Singapore, from where the money could be spent on any number of things, including perhaps nuclear technology.
According to a defected senior junta member interviewed by DVB in the documentary that aired on Aljazeera last week, “when [the regime] got that [gas] money, they started the nuclear project.”
(This is to say nothing of the ongoing instances of forced labor, rape, torture, killings and other abuses we continue to document against local people in direct connection to the companies’ pipeline).
Earlier this year, we traveled to Bangkok to launch an international campaign urging Total, Chevron, and PTTEP to practice complete revenue transparency in Burma and to publish all the data surrounding their last 18 years of payments to the Burmese regime. The campaign is backed by over 160 world leaders, NGOs, unions, scholars, and investment firms, including global leaders like Mary Robinson, Kjell Magne Bondevik, and Kerry Kennedy. It occurred to us that only a monumental degree of intransigence from the companies would lead them to deny the reasonable request for transparency from such a diverse and powerful coalition — but that’s exactly what happened.
About two weeks ago, Total and Chevron released statements effectively saying they had no plans to practice revenue transparency in Burma and no plans to cooperate with the initiative. Had they cooperated, they would have been the first ever companies to practice revenue transparency in the notoriously repressive country.
Curiously, however, the companies cited different reasons for their secrecy. Chevron claimed they’re contractually restricted from publishing their payments, while Total implied simply that the regime didn’t want them to practice transparency.
Chevron’s argument — that its “contractual obligations related to the Yadana Project do not permit disclosure of payments or other confidential information relative to the Project” — is simply inconsistent with the company’s actual contracts with the junta, which Unocal (now Chevron) disclosed during the partial trial in the human rights suit Doe v. Unocal Corp. In those contracts, there’s nothing that would prevent revenue transparency. Moreover, Unocal also chose to disclose dozens of actual payment records to the junta — records that were introduced at trial as part of Unocal’s defense — without suggesting that their defense was hampered by contracts that required confidentiality. So unless the relevant contracts have changed significantly, or unless Unocal violated court orders in Doe v. Unocal and withheld key documents, Chevron appears to be misleading the public and its shareholders about its contractual obligations in Burma.
Total’s markedly different tack is equally concerning. While privately the companies claim the same contractual restrictions as Chevron, now publicly they simply imply, in exceedingly vague terms, that the Burmese authorities might be averse to their transparency (“Total cannot disclose any financial or contractual information if the host country is opposed to such disclosure”).
Either way, it appears both Chevron and Total would simply prefer to hide their payments to the world’s newest nuclear threat.
Which raises the question: Just how real is the nuclear threat?
The story surfaced in 2009 after a two-year investigation by notable author and journalist Phil Thornton and prominent Australian National University scholar Desmond Ball. Drawing on radio intercepts and a series of interviews with key defectors from Burma, the duo demonstrated that the uncomfortable rumors circulating through intelligence communities were credible: Burma’s nuclear intent is real. Their conclusion was that if all accounts surrounding Burma’s clandestine program were true, the regime would eventually be able to arm itself with nuclear warheads.
Any existing doubts are now fading fast. The DVB report released last week reflects thousands of top secret internal documents and photographs smuggled out of the closed country by a senior defector from Burma’s military ranks. The evidence is clear and damning. Not only is the xenophobic regime constructing an intricate tunnel system throughout the country at exorbitant costs and with the help of North Korea, but it’s also developing long-range missiles and nuclear technologies that would only be used for weapons.
The current president of the IAEA Yikiya Amano claims that the UN watchdog group is now looking into the reports and if necessary will seek some clarifications from the junta, and Ban Ki Moon’s Special Advisor on Burma just arrived in Singapore for talks with the authorities there about the situation in the country.
A principal concern is that if Burma is capable of long range missile strikes and weapons of mass destruction, the security dynamic in Asia will alter significantly, from India to China and beyond. It would be hard to imagine such a necessary shift in governments’ priorities could ever benefit the region’s least advantaged citizens, let alone the people of Burma.
Perhaps now that the geopolitical stakes are higher, Total and Chevron can finally be persuaded to start practicing disaggregated revenue transparency in the country. At this point, it’ll be difficult to interpret their continued secrecy as anything but nefarious.
Secrets will out
Economist: Fri 11 Jun 2010
RUMOURS that Myanmar is the next recruit to a shady nuclear and missile network that seems to link North Korea, Iran, Pakistan, Syria and possibly others swirl intermittently. The missile link is clearest: in all these cases, including Myanmar’s, North Korea has either sold missiles or helped them build their own. But aside from an agreement in principle in 2007 for Russia to build a small research reactor for Myanmar, there has been little hard evidence of its junta’s nuclear ambitions. The recent defection of a former major in the Burmese army, Sai Thein Win, however, and the documents and photographs he brought with him, appear to confirm Myanmar’s intent, if not yet capacity, to enrich uranium and eventually build a bomb.Sai Thein Win handed over his evidence to the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), an émigré-run broadcaster based in Norway. The material has been analysed by Robert Kelley, an experienced former inspector for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN’s nuclear guardian. His 27-page report has plenty of caveats: Sai Thein Win is a missile expert, not a nuclear boffin, and some of what he reports is hearsay; some drawings are crude at best; some equipment seen in pictures could at a pinch have civilian uses too. But experimental work on lasers that could eventually be used to enrich uranium and other equipment for making uranium metal, a necessary step in bomb-making, heighten suspicion. So do close links between supposedly civilian nuclear officials and the Burmese army’s “nuclear battalion”, officially the Number One Science and Technology Regiment.
All this and other evidence, Mr Kelley’s report concludes, lead to the inescapable conclusion that such work is “for nuclear weapons and not civilian use or nuclear power”. An earlier report, published in January by the Institute for Science and International Security, an independent Washington-based outfit, debunked some of the wilder rumours about Myanmar’s nuclear quest. But it also concluded that foreign companies should treat inquiries from Myanmar no differently from “those from Iran, Pakistan or Syria”. All are known purchasers of illicit nuclear equipment.
Myanmar has only a “Small Quantities Protocol” with the IAEA. This exempts it from regular inspections, on the government’s assurance that it has nothing to inspect. Sharper questions are now likely to be asked. The agency had already been trying to dissuade Myanmar and Russia from the research reactor. Sai Thein Win, who learned missile expertise in Russia, says that since about 2002 hundreds of Burmese scientists have trained in Russian nuclear institutes, including one formerly linked to the Soviet nuclear-weapons programme.
Sai Thein Win offers no new insight into the North Korean link. But Western intelligence agencies watch North Korea’s activities in Myanmar. There have been reports that a company associated with the construction of a secret nuclear reactor in Syria (until it was bombed by Israel in 2007 just before completion) has worked in Myanmar too.
PM’s party appoints Chinese businessman – Khin Nnin Htet
Democratic Voice of Burma: Thu 10 Jun 2010
The party headed by Burma’s current prime minister, Thein Sein, has appointed a Chinese businessman with close ties to the ruling junta as an election candidate in the country’s northern Kachin state.The man, known only as Yawmo, is from China’s southern Yunnan province and, according to a local in Kachin state’s Bhamo, is “business partners” with the Burmese government. He will run for the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) in Momauk town, about 30 kilometres from the China border.
“He is Miao [ethnic Chinese minority group] from Yunnan province,” said the local. “He came and settled in Momauk in 1990 and later moved to Hpakant [a jade mining town] where his brothers-in-law already live.”
Election laws announced in February ban foreigners, and spouses of foreigners, from participating. This factor played a key role in forcing the party of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who was married to UK-born Michael Aris, to boycott the polls.
But numbers of influential Chinese businessmen close to the government are known to buy Burmese passports and ID cards. Burma has become heavily reliant on China as one of the junta’s principal economic allies; a visit to Naypyidaw by Chinese premier Wen Jiabao last week saw the two countries sign some 15 trade deals.
Burma’s economy has also undergone a significant revamp in recent months, with the government selling off swathes of previously state-owned industry to private businesses, many of whom have close ties to the Burmese junta. It is unclear to what extent Chinese businesses have benefitted from this, but analysts believe that Chinese investment in Burma, at both an entrepreneurial and state level, will continue to rise as Burma’s markets open up.
Many of Burma’s wealthy Chinese elites, including Yawmo, made their fortunes in the country’s lucrative jade mining industry, which is predominantly focused in the north, before moving to Mandalay in central Burma. Now Burma’s second city has an estimated Chinese population of up to 40 percent.
Another USDP candidate in Kachin state has been named as Htun Htun, a Burmese-born entrepreneur who also became rich through jade mining. The choice of candidates by the USDP, which is widely tipped to win what critics deride as a sham election, appears to validate suggestions that businessmen with close ties to the ruling junta will play key roles in the post-election government.
Moreover, the USDP has begun unofficially campaigning in several states and divisions around Burma while the 35 or so other registered parties must wait for official approval from the government before they can begin canvassing.
Ward officials in towns around Kachin and Chin state have reportedly been told by the USDP, which is believed to be an offshoot of the government-proxy organisation, the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), to recruit at least 10 percent of voters as party members.
“They are persuading people that they will get privileges for businesses and travelling – they will be prioritised when buying train, buses and air tickets,” said the Kachin local. “They said that even if a party member breaks the law and gets into trouble, senior authorities can speak in his or her favour and soften [the punishment].”
20,000 trees planted for Suu Kyi, 65 – Ph
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