TAK PROVINCE, Thai-Myanmar border – Myanmar, formerly known as Burma – a name still used by many within and without the nation, is beginning to attract more attention in the West as the dictatorial junta in control strengthens its military, makes a deal to acquire a nuclear reactor and continues to hold the leader of the nation’s democracy movement under house arrest.

A committee of the U.S. Senate is debating if the increase in military capacity sought by the fascist junta in Rangoon will change the balance of power in the region and threaten Thailand. Thailand is America’s and Britain’s top ally in the region.

Myanmar has said it will raise its troop strength to 500,000 troops, a 25 percent increase, as well as add new MiGs to its fleet of combat aircraft.

The U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee is conducting hearings on Thailand’s defense needs and has ordered the Pentagon to issue a report in the spring. The concern about Thailand’s defense needs comes mainly from Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., a member of the committee.

McConnell wants Thailand’s defense and possible military procurements to be included in this year’s appropriations bill for the Defense Department.

McConnell issued a statement against the junta, which said he had “grave concerns with regional security and stability and with the welfare of the people of Burma, who endure hardships and indignities under the oppressive misrule of the State Peace and Development Council. In terms of oppressive regimes (the SPDC) ranks right up there with the Taliban.”

“While the SPDC thugs and Suu Kyi are engaged in talks,” McConnell said, “the junta is building up its military strength and purchasing billions of dollars of military hardware from Russia and China.”

Aung San Suu Kyi is the leader of the National League for Democracy Party, who has been confined to her home since September 2000.

Sister Regina de los Santos, a Catholic nun who works with the Karen hill tribes in the region, claims to know the source of Burma’s revenue.

“Where does Burma get the funds to make such purchases? From its trillion-dollar drug crops,” she told WorldNetDaily.

“Burma is arming itself for two reasons. The junta wants to protect their drug crop and perhaps even maintain power after Suu Kyi is released. They saw what happened to the Afrikaners after Mandela was released. The junta has gone on record many times comparing Mandela and Suu Kyi as tools of the Western power brokers.”

Can Myanmar launch a major regional war?

“So far, the West’s response is that Burma lacks the infrastructure to launch a major war and sustain it,” an assistant to the European Union’s military attach? in Bangkok told WND.

“Ten MiGs won’t shake Thailand,” the attach? added. Thailand has purchased a squadron of second-hand U.S. F-16s.

The junta has signed a deal with Russia to buy 10 MiG-29 jet fighters. Russian technicians and assistance also will flow from Moscow to Rangoon. The MiGs’ price tag: $150 million.

Myanmar’s air force now consists of MiG-19s and MiG-21s produced in China – a nation of which Burma is now a defacto colony, say political analysts. Burma supplies China with rice, jade, teak wood and heroin to ship to the West, Australia and New Zealand. Also, China has established a new naval base in southern Myanmar.

Meanwhile, Thailand’s military is growing concerned about Burma’s arms buildup. The two nations are ancient enemies, and Burma’s drug crop, including the production of the meta-amphetamine Ya Baa, is wreaking havoc in Thailand’s society. The border between Thailand and Myanmar is contentious, and problems with refugees, drugs and land mines are a daily occurrence. Thai special operations units are conducting missions in the Golden Triangle to seek out and destroy Burmese and Laotian Ya Baa factories.

In search of nuclear power

Myanmar is hoping to buy a nuclear reactor from Russia, and Moscow appears more than ready to supply it to the junta. The International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA, based in Vienna, Austria, is already busy pumping Russia for details on the specifications of said reactor and information on the 200 technicians that Myanmar recently sent to Russia for high-tech nuclear training.

The IAEA has known since September about the junta’s plans to acquire a reactor. In fact, the IAEA dispatched a team of experts to Burma in November to evaluate the country’s safety plans for constructing a nuclear facility.

Myanmar government officials have admitted openly that these technicians are currently in Russia getting nuclear training.

Foreign Minister Aung Win told the international media that Burma is “committed to developing a nuclear research facility for medical purposes and possibly to generate nuclear power.” He also said that Burma was interested in studying the different uses of nuclear energy.

“After all, many other countries in the world are using nuclear power,” Aung Win told the international media last week. He also indicated that the junta has asked the IAEA for financial assistance in constructing the reactor.

According to statements released by the junta, Myanmar fully expects the nuclear reactor to be online “within a few years.” The junta has been unwilling to say what it will do with the nuclear waste generated by the proposed project. In the past, industrialized nations like Taiwan have sought to “sell” their nuclear and other toxic waste for dumping rights in nations like Cambodia and North Korea. Lawmakers in the U.S. have objected to such dumping agreements.

Myanmar’s quest for a nuclear reactor, and the swift American response to it, was virtually unreported in the U.S. media. Even so, the United States last week warned the junta that it must honor its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

A spokesman for the U.S. State Department told Agence France-Presse, “We expect the government of Burma to live up to its obligations and to not pursue production of weapons-grade fissile material.”

There are many questions being asked in the West about Burma’s nuclear ambitions and intentions. Are they peaceful? What will be done with the waste from the reactor, which can be turned into a “dirty” or radioactive bomb? Who will safeguard the project from terrorists?

Ivan Putkin is a Russian military intelligence officer stationed in Southeast Asia who agreed to an interview with WorldNetDaily.

“Burma has not graduated doctors and scientists from its universities for almost 15 years. But let’s be honest, once the Burmese junta has nuclear power, building a bomb is possible, and then the West, the EU or even ASEAN (the Association of Southeast Asian Nations) will be unable to take away Burma’s multi-billion dollar drug crops, routes and mercenary armies,” Putkin said.

The foreign assistance the junta requires to go nuclear is coming from Russia, which is also supplying the aforementioned MiGs.

Putkin told WND that Russia’s involvement does not suprise him.

“It is well-known that Russia has given training to the Aum Shin Rikyo cult in Japan and sold satellite photos of South Korea to North Korea. There is a fire sale going on in Russia these days – even nuclear reactors and technological assistance can be had,” he said.

Remembering the Karen

Recently, the Christian and pro-West Karen National Union, fighting a desperate battle against the junta and local drug lords like the Wa State Army, celebrated the 53rd Karen National Resistance Day. WorldNetDaily observed the celebration at the Thai-Burmese border near the Tak Province.

One Karen general said he wished Western corporations and the IMF would continue to boycott Myanmar and pressure opposition leader Suu Kyi to address Karen issues in her negotiations with the junta.

Karen soldier Joshua Tin said he hopes Suu Kyi will remember the suffering of the Karen.

“Suu Kyi is seen by the West and the IMF as a tool to taking over control of Burma and developing the nation,” he said. “This is not wrong in theory. The West wants to protect Burma from Chinese domination. But I am concerned about Suu Kyi’s background. Her father had Marxist leanings. She never mentions the plight of our people. Most Americans and British citizens don’t realize that our grandfathers helped the Allies against the Japanese during World War II.”

Suu Kyi has been meeting secretly with junta leaders in recent weeks, say Western diplomats in Thailand. The junta, however, denies any such meetings have occurred. On Jan. 22, the opposition leader met with junta Gen. Than Shwe, the chairman of the Burmese State Peace and Development Council. Than Shwe is considered to be one of the junta’s primary power brokers. Suu Kyi was driven in a military vehicle to a special meeting with Than Shwe. It is a rare occasion that the Nobel Prize winner is allowed to leave her home. Khin Nyunt, Burma’s top military intelligence official also attended the meeting.

Than Shwe and Suu Kyi have met before. First in 1994, then again in 2000. Razali Ismail, the U.N. envoy to Myanmar, was scheduled to visit the nation this week to engage in talks with the junta and Suu Kyi. The junta has released many of Suu Kyi’s supporters.

The Burmese junta has gone on record stating that the U.N. had offered them $1 billion to turn over control of the nation to international administration. This shocking offer was widely reported in the major papers in Thailand.

Sister Regina summed up what she saw and the current dynamic in the nation.

“For the West, the major question is how to up the pace of national reconciliation in Burma, keep China at bay, install Suu Kyi to power after national elections and begin to develop the economy,” she said.

“But I suppose you could say the same for many of the developing nations in Asia.”

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