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Terrorism & Security

Jim Webb cancels Burma visit after report claims junta 'planning nuclear bomb'

US Sen. Jim Webb canceled his June 3 visit to Burma following a report on the claims of a high-level defector that the junta is mining uranium and working with North Korea to develop a nuclear bomb.

By Correspondent / June 4, 2010

US Sen. Jim Webb gestures during a news conference at a hotel in Bangkok Thursday. Webb abruptly cancelled a planned visit to Burma (Myanmar) on Thursday because of concern about the country developing nuclear weapons in tandem with North Korea.

Chaiwat Subprasom/Reuters

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After years of concern that Burma (Myanmar) has been developing nuclear weapons in tandem with North Korea, a top US nuclear scientist has produced a new report that appears to validate evidence of such a program divulged by a Burmese defector. If substantiated, it could pose new roadblocks just as Burma appeared to be warming up to the West.

Already, the report has led Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.), chairman of the US Senate foreign relations subcommittee on east Asia and Pacific affairs, to cancel his planned June 3 visit to Burma.

Sai Thein Win, a former major in the Burmese army, claims to have smuggled out secret memos, equipment orders, sketches, and photographs from secret facilities near the towns of Thabeikkyin and Myaing. One memo requests a “bomb reactor” for the “special substance production research department.” One photo shows "bomb reactors" likely used to convert uranium compounds into uranium metal for bomb or nuclear reactor fuel.

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Mr. Sai's information was analyzed by Robert Kelley, an American nuclear scientist and a former director in the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), in a 30-page report published June 3 for the Oslo-based watchdog Democratic Voice of Burma. The antigovernment broadcaster investigated Burma's nuclear aims for a report aired on Al Jazeera.

"The information brought by Sai suggests that Burma is mining uranium, converting it to uranium compounds for reactors and bombs, and is trying to build a reactor and or an enrichment plant that could only be useful for a bomb," Mr. Kelley states, likening Sai Thein Win to Mordechai Vanunu, the Israeli technician who took photos of Israel's nuclear sites that were published in the Sunday Times in London in 1986.

The Washington Post calls it a "trove of insider material."

"There are many reports of a nuclear program in Burma. Most of them have been sketchy and in some cases technically incredible," Kelley states. But Sai's "information on nuclear program organization is impressive and it correlates well with information from other published and unpublished sources. But the most important thing he has brought forth is hundreds of color photographs taken inside critical facilities in Burma."

On a recent visit to Burma, Kurt Campbell, Assistant State Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, had told the junta in no uncertain terms to comply with UN Security Council Resolution 1874, reports The Nation in Thailand. The resolution calls on member states to prevent North Korea from developing nuclear weapons. The US had become concerned over a "growing link" between North Korea and Burma, especially on the transfer of nuclear-related technology, the paper reported on May 31.

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