Japan claims it has confiscated a shipment of aluminum alloy bound for Burma that could be used in a nuclear enrichment program.
The East-Asia Intel report said a cargo ship en route from North Korea was transporting the alloy through Japan, with the intention of transferring it to China, then Burma.
Dictator Watch President and Burma analyst Roland Watson says he isn’t surprised by the report and adds that the seized materials confirm the existence of an ongoing weapons program.
“I wasn’t shocked by the news out of Japan at all,” Watson said. “I have always assumed that the program is ongoing.”
Watson also believes that the ongoing ethnic wars in Burma show that the military is mostly autonomous.
“The military, as the war against the Kachin people demonstrates, is completely independent from, and I would say superior to, [President] Thein Sein,” Watson said.
In November, Burma agreed to sign the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Safeguards Agreement, which is an additional provision of a nuclear weapons program treaty. At the signing, Sein invited nuclear inspectors to visit Burma.
Watson says he’s skeptical of the invitation and the actual results the invitation will have.
“I don’t believe his offer to sign with the IAEA at all,” Watson said.
He also believes that Sein’s signature won’t really mean much in Burma’s present structure.
“Any signature would have to be ratified by the military-dominated parliament, and that is very unlikely to happen,” Watson said.
Watson says his skepticism is fueled by the makeup of the present parliament.
In November 2010, that pro-military government parties captured most of the seats in Burma’s parliament.
The pro-government Union Solidarity and Development Party is set to claim about 80 percent of the seats in the new parliament, and a report by the Daily Telegraph of London says party leaders are understandably pleased with the results.
The makeup of the present regime according to Watson is what makes any parliamentary decision problematic. He says that in Burma, two different factions control the military and any appearance of political reform.
“As Dictator Watch has pointed out, the reform in Burma does not mean that the nuclear weapon and ballistic missile program has been shut down. The regime’s statements saying that it has are lies,” Watson said.
“The program is directly under the real source of power in the country, the Burma army and Senior Gen. Than Shwe,” Watson said.
“As Aung San Suu Kyi pointed out during her trip to India, Thein Sein is separate from the military. At least on paper, he no doubt retains his rank of lieutenant general and is the titular head of the National Defense and Security Council,” Watson said.
“It is unlikely that he, and of course his spokesperson on this subject, Hmu Zaw, have any idea about the real status of the program,” Watson said.
Even so, the Democratic Voice of Burma reported that outgoing U. S. Senator Richard Lugar, R-Ind., said in a letter to the Burmese government that the regime needs to come clean on the program.
“This situation provides your government with an opportunity to demonstrate transparency regarding the shipment, its intended recipient in Myanmar [Burma] and the planned use of the metal pipes and high-specification aluminum alloy bars,” Lugar wrote.
There is, however, the question of the recent announcement that Burma would sign the additional protocol with the IAEA, which nuclear expert David Albright called a remarkable decision, Watson said.
Watson said the announcement raises questions about whether Burma truly intends to abolish the program.
“How can the program still be under way, which the blocked shipment seems to demonstrate, in the face of this decision? Won’t IAEA inspections immediately reveal it?” Watson said.
Not everyone is convinced that the intercepted shipment means that Burma is still developing a nuclear program.
Burma scholar and Georgetown University Professor David Steinberg says Burma’s intentions for the aluminum alloy are unknown.
“The shipment was intercepted. Yet, the materials could be, or could not be, used in a nuclear program,” Steinberg said.
However, Steinberg said Burma has wanted a nuclear program.
“They say they don’t have a nuclear program, yet the country has indicated in the past that they were interested in developing one,” Steinberg said.
“Burma has imported missiles from their Asian neighbors, but that’s different than actually operating a nuclear weapons program,” Steinberg said. “A lot of people have supplied arms to Burma – North Korea, Ukraine, Israel, China.”
To understand Burma’s real position on the nuclear program and its claim of making major political reforms, Watson says the whole picture needs to come into view.
“For the overall picture, think about it: a nuke program; attacking peaceful demonstrators including monks with fire bombs; ethnic cleansing of a minority; a civil war against another minority – is this reform?” Watson asked. “No.”
WND reported in June 2010 that Burma was apparently purchasing nuclear weapon components.
The military regime in Burma, marginally in control of a Buddhist-dominated nation that has been torn by clan and tribal strife for decades, apparently is trying to strengthen its position by attempting to buy weapons-grade uranium and nuclear technology from Asian and European nations.
Vision Without Borders President Patrick Klein said Burma’s major technology source is the closed regime in North Korea.
“North Korea is helping them develop nuclear weapons,” Klein reported.
Karen National Union Vice Chairman David Tharckabaw said the program is farther along than just getting uranium from other countries.
“We had a report from the inside that they’re mining uranium to use in a nuclear reactor. They have a secret arrangement for building a nuclear reactor,” Tharckabaw explained.
“They’re sending out state callers to Russia, to Japan and to China to acquire expertise to nuclear weapons,” Tharckabaw added. “Germany has also been one of Burma’s contacts for technology.”