Myanmar’s General Than Shwe
Burma’s military regime is trying to develop a clandestine nuclear programme with the aim of producing a nuclear bomb, according to a new study. The five-year investigation by the Norway-based Democratic Voice of Burma concluded that the southeast Asian country’s ruling generals were a long way from producing a nuclear weapon but had gone to great lengths to acquire the necessary technology and knowledge.
The report cited a US nuclear scientist in assessing evidence provided by Sai Thein Win, a Burmese defence engineer trained in Russia in missile technology. He said he had defected from the military after working in factories built to develop weapons of mass destruction.
“Burma is trying to build pieces of a nuclear programme, specifically a nuclear reactor to make plutonium and a uranium enrichment programme,” said the report’s co-author, Robert Kelley, an ex-director of the International Atomic Energy Agency.
“The information brought by Sai suggests Burma is mining uranium, converting it to uranium compounds … and is trying to build a reactor and/or an enrichment plant that could only be useful for a bomb.”
The report prompted senior US Senator Jim Webb to cancel a trip to Rangoon, which he said would be “unwise and inappropriate” in light of the claim.
Accounts of suspected nuclear plans surfaced last year, but Burma, which its rulers now call Myanmar, has never confirmed or denied any nuclear ambitions.
Previous claims by defectors said the junta had enlisted the help of nuclear-armed North Korea, reportedly agreeing a memorandum of understanding on military co-operation during a visit to Pyongyang last year.
Admiral Robert Willard, head of the US Pacific command, said he was unaware of specific instances of nuclear co-operation between the two states, but was “certainly concerned about the relationship between North Korea and Burma given our lack of visibility in both regimes”.