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.
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Since 2000, Western intelligence sources have been gathering evidence of North Korea providing assistance to Burma to build a nuclear reactor that can produce graded plutonium used in assembling future weapons of mass destruction. Last year, reports were released using data collected from two defecting Burmese military officers, intercepted calls and messages as well as human intelligence along Thai-Burmese border, all finger-pointing to Burma's nuclear ambitions.Skip to next paragraph
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When they came out last fall, scepticism was high among military experts and strategists on the junta's nuclear intentions. Most said there was insufficient evidence. Some viewed them as attempts to further discredit the regime's international standing. As additional interviews were conducted, especially with a former major in the Burmese Army, Sai Thein Win, who was directly involved with the recent secret nuclear programme, it has become clearer that Burma is investigating nuclear technology.
Russia, North Korea cited as helping Burma
Russia is alleged to have trained Burmese nuclear scientists, including Sai himself, who was reportedly trained in missile technology in Moscow along with Burmese friends who trained in nuclear technology. All returned to work for Burma's nuclear program.
It is no secret that North Korea has shipped arms and nuclear technology to Burma. But the report further argues that the junta is using North Korea as an example for how it, too, can ward off international interference.
"Like their model, North Korea, the junta hopes to remain safe from foreign interference by being too dangerous to invade. Nuclear weapons contribute to that immunity," according to the report. It also mentions that Burma is trying to build medium-range missiles such as SCUDs under a memorandum of understanding with North Korea.
Senator Webb in August 2009 became the first senior US official in a decade to visit Burma. He met with junta leader Than Shwe and gained the release an imprisoned American man who had unlawfully entered the home of Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.
“It is unclear whether these allegations have substantive merit," Webb said in his June 3 statement. "However, given the fact that Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell recently accused Burma of violating UN Security Council Resolution 1874 with respect to a suspected shipment of arms from North Korea, there are now two unresolved matters related to activities of serious concern between these two countries. Until there is further clarification on these matters, I believe it would be unwise and potentially counterproductive for me to visit Burma.”
A sign of failed US policy?
An editorial in The Irrawaddy, a magazine founded by Burmese exiles based in Chiang Mai, Thailand, argues that Webb's canceled trip is an attempt to "save face" in the wake of a misled US foreign policy. Webb has in the past opposed sanctions on Burma and applauded the junta's "substantive gestures."
Some Burmese living abroad have been asking in Internet discussion whether Webb had seen the light and had finally changed his thinking on the Burma question. The answer is: No.