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Burma Goes Ballistic
by Melody Kemp
I am thankful to my friends in Thailand and Burma for the following news which comes from those inside and outside Burma. Most names cannot be given for obvious reasons.
Heavy sighs and teeth sucking have become commonplace in Washington and UN circles as diplomats and hard heads consider what to do about North Korea’s and Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
Burma, whose secretive and murderous government recently literally headed for the hills, seems to have escaped the hard laser beam of disapproval, despite its own leading role, and nuclear objectives.
Last November Dictatorwatch reported that the SPDC was mining and refining uranium, and then bartering the yellowcake to Iran and North Korea; a claim debunked by the Orwellian-named State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) under a flurry of script changes. A cargo boat being loaded with yellow cake morphed into a North Korean vessel seeking refuge in Rangoon harbour, despite no storm activity being evident in the region. Then again, they could have been merely collecting a cargo of methamphetamine, which has been seen being loaded by speed boat at the same island dock. After all, North Korean ships have been visiting Burmese ports for 5 years … must be something of interest.
Another series of insider sources, different from those who reported the first shipments, are insisting that shipments of yellow cake are indeed taking place. They suggest that the relationship with Iran appears to be mediated by another power, they postulate Russia, but the sources conclude that the deals between North Korea and Burma are direct, and include the exchange for missiles and technical assistance in order to bolster Burma’s own nuclear ambitions. China and Russia have been cited as applauding from the sidelines, while offering the odd dance lessons when needed.
It is suggested that a businessman called Tayza whose front is provided by Aeroflot, is "the principle deal maker" (Watson 2006 Dictatorwatch), for Burma’s missile and nuclear program, mediating between Burma and China, North Korea and Russia. Trainee reactor technicians were flown by Aeroflot between Mandalay and Russian training sites.
Now taking into account the frank paranoia of Burma’s ruling SPDC, whose major enemy are its own people, this should be a matter of alarm and concern. On the international level of diplomacy or media coverage, this is not evident. Even the SPDC ethnic cleansing of Karen and Shan people has received little coverage when compared to other similar systematic atrocities, such as Darfur.
Last year the US tried to gain a Security Council resolution on Burma but was rebuffed by Russia and China. They are apparently trying again this year. Ban Ki Moon, the new UN Secretary general has been very low key on Burma, and some think that his independence is compromised and his approach to Burma linked to Daewoo being one of the Burma’s major sources of foreign revenue. Daewoo is considered to be a direct sponsor of Than Shwe’s regime. The issue is made more complex and difficult to finesse by the US appeasement policy toward China. The US (and Australia) do not want to anger China but rather make sure that trade continues and China is not tempted to sell its warehouses of US Treasury bonds at which point the US economy will crumble like a soggy cake.
Until now Burma has relied on hydropower and gas to generate its power. A plan to dam the Salween river is not only a proposal to gain additional marketable electricity that can be sold to Thailand, but also to deal a belly blow to the Karen and Karenni peoples whose ancestral land surrounds and is watered by the Salween, and whose villages will be submerged. In the violently perverse world of Burma, dams are an instrument of warfare.
Increasingly Burma is looking to developing a nuclear power industry to provide additional energy to support hoped for economic growth. However as the industry is capital intensive and in need of many more technical professionals than Burma has, nuclear power is only listed as a possibility amongst others (www.energy.gov.mm)
The Ministry of Energy had listed several sources of uranium ore in Burma (below).
The quality of the ore varies greatly as can be seen from the above government source. One of the mines has been since taken over by the military who cancelled all its private orders. Magwe, like some of the reactor sites proposed by Indonesia, is on a significant fault line which registered a major earthquake in 2003.
In 2001 Russia assisted Burma to build a research reactor. Burmese technicians were sent to Russia and forbidden from seeing their families on return, being only able to communicate with them via mobile phone. Those who managed to escape the strict secrecy and leave Burma, reported that North Korean and Pakistani advisers were seen on site. Bertil Lintner, crime buster for the now defunct Far Eastern Economic Review, could not vouch for the Russian delivery of the reactor after all this activity, but he did say that a huge underground bunker had been built at Taudwingyi, which is one of the primary mine sites.
It is said that the SPDC has many facilities secreted in various locations where the uranium can be enriched to increase the proportion of U235. This process, requiring the addition of fluorine and the consequent melting and pressurization to produce uranium hexafluoride gas which is then filtered via gas diffusion, is said to occur at locations east of Mandalay (Maymyo) and southwest in the Setkhya mountains. Both sites are usually cloud covered, making conventional aerial surveillance difficult. One of Burma’s major Defence establishments is located in Maymyo and villagers fleeing violence have reported that there is a tunnel connecting the Chinese sponsored hydro dam on the Myit Nge River which leads to the defence complex. Some have conjectured that this to provide sufficient dedicated power to the complex for the development of enriched uranium and for weapons production.
Insiders also insist that the SPDC has enrichment facilities at the end of the South Nawin Dam which was built with forced labour and Japanese funds. This is particularly interesting, as this would enable the creation of nuclear weapons by Burma or any of its patrons. Sources can be trucked across borders into China with the same lack of detection that allows drugs to be shipped out in vast quantities.
Some informants who have been watching the situation closely, are almost sure that Burma has ballistic weapons and that technical and military cooperation with China is encouraging an arc of weaponry across the region. China’s army Chief of Staff Liang Guanglie visited the Maymyo site in October last year, and while circumstantial, evidence leads one to conclude that such a high level delegation would not be there to discuss the recipes for infantry ‘meals ready to eat’.
Russian geologist protected by Burmese security prospected for uranium in Karenni state in 2003, but the guerilla army put up a barrage of resistance and they fled.
It is alarming enough that the west has been assiduously ignoring the 60 year old war in Burma, a war like many having its roots in European, in this case British colonialism, But it is even more alarming that a nuclear build up in a state where the leaders are motivated by fear, drugs, genocide and numerology, goes without comment.
In a postscript, UN envoy Gambari who visited Burma late last year, was asked to investigate amongst other things, the murder of 50 porters reported by the Karen Information Center. Two porters who escaped the massacre gave evidence that on October 19 last year, the prison porters had been executed between the villages of Nor Soe and Gor Thay. Porters are often political prisoners; activists who dared oppose the regime or petty criminals sent to the front lines to carry weapons and do other arduous work. It is not known if Gambari did so.