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New Documentary Shows Military’s Shocking Nuclear Efforts

By Burma Partnership  •  June 7, 2010

“They want to produce a bomb… nuclear bombs for warfare”

—  Former Burmese Military Major Sai Thein Win

The military junta’s fixation on military might and issues of ‘national security’ may not be news to the people of Burma or the international community, nor would the junta’s focus on preserving and fulfilling the social and economic interests of high-ranking military and government officials at the expense of their general population.

But what has recently come to light is surprisingly conclusive evidence, based on testimonies by high-ranking defectors and photographic documentation, of the military’s attempts to develop a program that may one day produce viable nuclear weapons.

Such information was released in a recent documentary filmed by the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) and aired on Al Jazeera. The documentary focused on former Major Sai Thein Win, who had previously managed a highly secure factory dedicated to producing parts of equipment used to enrich uranium. The former major defected after watching a previous DVB documentary on the military bunker system being built throughout the country.

The bunker system is modeled on the tunnels in Vietnam built by the Vietcong to evade American troops, revealed Soe Tint, another army defector. With human rights condemnations from the international community and the precedence of the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, Burma’s military perceives itself as a possible target for international bomb attacks. The tunnels are heavily networked through Naypyidaw, the new capital and home to military generals, and contain defenses against atomic, biological and chemical attack. “It is for their own safety that the government has invested heavily in these tunnels,” noted Aung Lin Htut, a former major attached to Burma’s embassy in Washington, DC.

The military regime has spent an estimated US$3.5 billion on the bunker project alone. North Korean experts provided guidance and conducted progress checks three or four times a week.

However, the bunker system is not the only North Korean aided project. Sai Thein Win revealed how the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea provides mentorship on the production of SCUD missiles and nuclear weapons. The military junta has invested heavily in stocking two large factories with machines made by German companies Trumpf and DMG dedicated to building missiles and producing parts to enrich uranium, two major steps in the production of nuclear weapons. Nuclear experts have examined images and evidence provided by Sai Thein Win, and have concluded that the intention is clearly to produce weapons, rather than energy. “There is no conceivable use for [the projects] for nuclear power or anything like that,” stated Robert Kelley, former director in the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

The whole project is funded by the profits from the Yadana gas project operated partly by international companies Total (France) and Chevron (USA). Heavily controversial since its inception, the gas project has led to serious human rights violations including forced labor, forced relocation, and land confiscation, and provided the regime with over US$4.83 billion. Profits from the project are expected to multiply in the coming years.

In a country where poverty, malnutrition, inadequate healthcare and illiteracy mark the daily existence of so many civilians, such extreme military expenditure is utterly unjustifiable. The regime spends 40-60% of the national budget on the military in stark contrast to the 0.4% spent on healthcare and 0.5% on education.

What is even more appalling is the sheer waste in expenses. An extensive report by Kelley and DVB researcher Ali Fowle concluded that “much of what [Sai Thein Win] is providing suggests Burma has little chance of succeeding in its quest.” The military’s deplorable spending on a nuclear project that may not even create the desired products is one of the most visible examples of the regime stealing money from the hands of its people, only to have the funds evaporate into nothing due to their extreme arrogance and paranoia.

With this project, the military has completely disregarded several international agreements, such as its agreement with the IAEA that stipulates it would not develop nuclear weapons. At this point, the IAEA does not conduct inspections in Burma as it understands Burma to be following their signed obligations. Burma’s other agreement is with ASEAN; as a signatory of the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon Free Zone Treaty, Burma’s current attempts to develop nuclear weapons violates the agreement.

What is important here is intent. Whether Burma has the capability to produce nuclear technology is debatable, with many experts skeptical of the regime’s current immature efforts. Nevertheless, the regime has made it clear that they have set their sights on nuclear weaponry, and have balked at neither the high price tag nor the sheer difficulty of the project.

The IAEA and ASEAN must act in regards to the junta’s most recent attempt at flouting international agreements and placing their own egomaniacal self-interests over the welfare of the people of Burma. The international community must call upon IAEA to investigate Burma’s nuclear capabilities, ASEAN to uphold the Nuclear Weapon Free Zone Treaty and for international companies Trumpf, DMG, Chevron and Total to cease all business agreements, especially those that play straight into the hands of the junta and their military budgets.

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