'Evidence lacking' of Burma's nuke plans

August 24, 2009 - 6:49PM

Information leaking out of Burma raises suspicions of a clandestine nuclear program in cahoots with North Korea but there's no solid evidence, a new study says.

The paper, released by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) says any suggestion of a secret weapons of mass destruction (WMD) program conducted by a rogue state like Burma must be cause for serious concern.

The author, Griffith University research fellow Andrew Selth, said no one could underestimate the lengths to which Burma's military leaders would go to stay in power and to protect the country from perceived external threats.

"Some of the information that has leaked out of Burma appears credible, and in recent years other snippets of information have emerged which, taken together, must raise suspicions," he said.

Relations between Burma and North Korea, which both achieved independence in 1948, have been traditionally patchy but warmed in 1988 when Burma was ostracised by the west after the abortive 1988 pro-democracy uprising.

Mr Selth said reliable information was scarce but it seemed that Burma had purchased weapons and munitions from North Korea. Periodic visits of North Korean freighters to Rangoon have prompted speculation that Burma has acquired more advanced weaponry, such as SCUD-type missiles.

Media reports last month claimed Burma had embarked on a secret nuclear weapons program, aided by North Korea which has long conducted a clandestine nuclear weapons program, testing devices in 2006 and 2009.

Mr Selth said the US had steadfastly refused to accuse Burma of a secret WMD program, probably because it did not feel there was sufficient reliable evidence to mount a public case.

"Understandably, foreign officials looking at this issue are being very cautious. No one wants a repetition of the mistakes which preceded the 2003 Iraq War, either in underestimating a country's capabilities, or by giving too much credibility to a few untested intelligence sources," he said.

Mr Selth said the challenge was to determine if Burma had such a program and if so, to do something about it.

He said Burma's regime did not seem to fear international criticism or the threat of increased sanctions.

"The exposure of a WMD program would probably see Burma expelled from ASEAN," he said.

"Even if that were to occur, however, the generals seem prepared to see Burma return to its pre-1988 isolation and poverty, if that was the price they had to pay to remain masters of the country's and their own destiny."


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