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COMMENTARY
Alarm Bells Ring Over New Nuclear Evidence
By YENI Sunday, June 6, 2010


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An hour-long documentary film on Burma's nuclear ambitions and tunnel-building program has reawakened alarm throughout the region about the Burmese regime's military relationship with North Korea.

The film was made by the Norway-based Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) and broadcast recently by Al Jazeera.[See full coverage]

Yeni is news editor of the Irrawaddy magazine. He can be reached at [email protected]

Its contents were cause for particular concern within the Association for Southeast Asian Nations, which has reached an agreement for a nuclear weapons-free zone,

One expert, Robert E. Kelley, a retired senior UN nuclear inspector, said that although the film depicted “unrealistic attempts” by the Burmese regime to attain a nuclear capability “success may be beyond Burma’s reach.”

Nevertheless, Kelley said, “the intent is clear and that is a very disturbing matter for international agreements.” 

The main witness in the DVB film is a young Burmese military specialist on rocket engines, who left Burma in February with highly sensitive information purporting to show that Burma has acquired components for a nuclear weapons program, including technology for uranium enrichment and long-range missiles, with the help of North Korea.

The defector, Sai Thein Win, also brought fresh evidence that DVB says shows the construction of a secret network of hidden bunkers and tunnels across the country.

In the DVB film, he and other defectors also reveal bunkers alleged to be used as secret military storage facilities and command centers in case of aerial attacks. Some tunnels are marked as substations for fiber optic cables which the report says are part of a plan to provide the military with a secure nationwide communications network.

Experts suggest that the total cost of the secret programs could run into billions of US dollars—a huge outlay that the regime can nevertheless raise through an expected increase in energy revenues.

A study by the Washington-based United States Institute of Peace said 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. Burma’s earnings from gas exports represented at least 45 percent of its US $6.6 billion income 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.

While 40 to 60 percent of the national budget is allocated to the military, the Burmese people have to struggle daily with a highly inefficient public services sector. 

For instance, Burma’s central economic-administrative corridor between Rangoon and Naypyidaw, via Mandalay, suffers severe electricity shortages. Business owners in Burma complain they may have to shut down because of the decision by the state power authority to halt supplies to industrial users owing to the lack of water to drive hydropower plant turbines.

Despite its impressive store of natural resources, Burma  remains one of the world's poorest countries. Its average 2.9 percent annual growth rate is the lowest in the Greater Mekong Subregion.

Disenchantment with the hardships of life under the regime is likely to have contributed to the defection of several Burmese military officers such as Sai Thein Win.

Consequently, there was no major military reshuffle in Naypyidaw in the recent four-monthly meeting ahead of this year's planned general election.

The lack of a reshuffle is also a signal that junta leader Snr-Gen Than Shwe, 77, his No 2, vice Snr-Gen Maung Aye, 72, and other aging top generals may not retire from their military posts in the near future because of growing doubts about the loyalty of younger officers.

Meanwhile Prime Minister Thein Sein and several government ministers recently resigned their military positions to found a political party, the Union Solidarity and Development Party, to contest the upcoming regime-controlled election.

Despite the maneuvers by the top generals to keep hold of the reins of power, some so-called experts believe naively the election will change Burma’s political landscape.



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COMMENTS (10)
 
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Garrett Wrote:
13/06/2010
"There goes your great intent Sai Thein Win. Give any news and Irrawaddy will whip up its half-witted poster into a frenzy. No proof, just pure innuendos."

PlanB demonstrates his own point about half-wits very well.

As usual, how many hundreds, thousands, and hundreds of thousands have to die to convince planB that the SPDC is evil?
Why does he defend thieving mass murderers?
The SPDC ARE evil, they ARE greedy, they ARE vengeful & they love getting away with it all.

I doubt that planB gets any sadistic pleasure out of defending murderers, so it must be ignorance that drives him to constantly infer that the SPDC is not as bad as everyone says, & to blame their misunderstood actions on sanctions by the West.

The only sanctions they care about are their own sanctions for rape, murder, forced labour, extortion, starvation, religious persecution,& the destruction of homes, churches,& schools to be used by the soldiers of the Burma army against Burmese ethnic minority citizens.

Garrett Wrote:
11/06/2010
Soe Thane wrote:

"What does military spending in a country like Burma really mean? We don't know what the GDP is, what the budget is, so how do we know the percentage of defense spending?

I point to this because there's a lot of very sloppy reporting that's become endemic. Lots of numbers just thrown around from poor sources or with no sourcing. If Irrawaddy doesn't do better, why should we believe it and more than NLM?"

I can't see your point here. It's not the fault of those who must guesstimate that the SPDC hides so much of their doings.

If better information was available, it would be used.

Your comments seem aimed to protect the SPDC & to punish those who can't provide statistics on SPDC military budget that are up to your standards.

Even the United Nations has to rely on estimates as regards forced labour, crimes against humanity, systematic rape & destruction of food as weapons, non-judicial killings, torture, & other crimes against humanity of the SPDC.

plan B Wrote:
10/06/2010
Sai Thein Win: “a dangerous, badly organized and expensive waste.”

There goes your great intent Sai Thein Win. Give any news and Irrawaddy will whip up its half-witted poster into a frenzy. No proof, just pure innuendos.

Let's see

SPDC is guilty of every possible evil deed until proven otherwise.

Irrawaddy just deliver news and hearsay, absolutely irreproachably truthful until proven otherwise of course.

That prove the poster that take everything against SPDC as facts until proven otherwise, of course.

O Maung Gyi Wrote:
10/06/2010
This nuclear development matter was not new issue to America. She knows it since last many years that Burmese had intention to develop. But previous Burmese leaders are real politicians, wise and honest persons, that is why although Burma has a right to develop nuclear power, but none of Burmese past leaders encourage to develop such an expensive and unnecessary dangerous human killer war materials for Burma, because they were farsighted people.

At present situation inside Burmese leaders
are selfish, only thing they know how to grip power and make corruption. That is why to keep bargaining power among the ASEAN and international communities, they want to develop this dangerous item for their egos.
US has to think very deeply and should have to take some severe action on this issue.

A.M.O Wrote:
08/06/2010
So, what are we going to do, Mr Surin Pitsuwan?

Do we throw the queries across the board in the upcoming ASEAN meeting? Or just keep quiet?

What is ASEAN's agreement amongst member states on non-proliferation of nuclear arms?

What are the Burmese up to? You guys can shoot each other with nuclear-tipped missiles? Do you?

You guys have to do some brainstorming in one of your gatherings(ASEAN); and make sure you guys live up to your commitments & no fooling around etc.

No explanation is required of the imminent dangers of a nuclear war in the group, I suppose.

Maung Maung Wrote:
08/06/2010
The evidence of the nuclear bomb programme, whether successful or not, shows the folly of the SPDC in spending the much needed foreign exchange from the sale of national resources like oil, gas, minerals and timber.
The SPDC has been spending more than 50% of its income to maintain a largely inefficient and unnecessary 450,000 army while people's health care, education and social welfare are neglected.
This nuclear programme is just one instance of the megalomania of Senior General Than Shwe. He has also built a palace in Pagan and a new capital at Naypyidaw. The people must get rid of them and establish a democratic state in order to live in peace, prosperity and harmony.

Tom Tun Wrote:
08/06/2010
The best way to treat a disease is prevention. World society always thinks that Burma, Iran and North Korea nuclear ambitions are hopeless and a waste of money. However, before Dr, Oppenheimer invented the atomic bomb technology, the nuclear bomb seemed hopeless.
If some human being from a part of the world can built nukes, I believe Burma will one day, too. When Burma achieves that step, it will be too late to reverse it.
Just like I said, Prevention is the best way to protecting from disease. Global society must do everything to stop the Burmese regime from having suclear weapons.
Thailand should regret the proposal to bring Burmese regime into ASEAN. Thailand must withdraw their investment from Burma for the future sake of their country.

Snoopy Wrote:
08/06/2010
The nuclear ambition is just a waste of time, energy and state money. Remember the saying: He who holds a sword will die by the sword.
I am sick of the Burmese generals; they are heading for the worst. Don't they know that they won't live to see 100 years? While alive, why not do something useful and fruitful for the nation?
There are better works to do: build good roads, good communication systems, schools and hospitals for the poor, provide enough electricity, and save the forests.
Forget about nuclear ambition.

Zam Mang Wrote:
07/06/2010
Wow! People from Burma and N Korea do not even receive basic human needs like water and electricity but their heartless rulers are trying to live inside bunkers with nukes for their own security.
It shows that these regimes have insecurity very much. Stolen money and hundreds of thousands of soldiers cannot provide them security. When will they understand that the rule of law is the best way to have real security?

Soe Thane Wrote:
07/06/2010
Never understood where this figure of 40-60% defense spending comes from. There is no open budget. How can you even guess what it is and what percentage is military spending? What does military spending in a country like Burma really mean? We don't know what the GDP is, what the budget is, so how do we know the percentage of defense spending?

I point to this because there's a lot of very sloppy reporting that's become endemic. Lots of numbers just thrown around from poor sources or with no sourcing. If Irrawaddy doesn't do better, why should we believe it and more than NLM?

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