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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.

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....Webb opposes sanctions against Burma and is seen as leaning toward the regime. It's also rumored that he and senior US State Department officials concerned with Asia-Pacific affairs are not on good terms. Nor does Webb enjoy much popularity among Burmese dissidents. Veteran Burmese politician Win Tin has said he wouldn't welcome a meeting between Webb and detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

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“He doesn't have good sympathy for Burma's democracy movement,” Win Tin said bluntly.

Not yet nuclear capable, but intent clear

Two Singaporean companies with Germany connections sold machine parts and tools to the Burmese government. The report notes that much of the purchasing was done by the Department of Technical and Vocational Education (DTVE), which is closely associated with Burma's Department of Atomic Energy (DAE).

"DTVE is probably a front for military purchasing for weapons of mass destruction; that is to say nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and the means to deliver them, largely missiles," the report states.

But while the report sheds light on Burma's ambitions, its author casts doubt on the likelihood of Burma actually developing nukes:

It is DVB consultants’ firm belief that Burma is probably not capable of building the equipment they have been charged to build: to manufacture a nuclear weapon, to build a weapons material supply, and to do it in a professional way. But the information provided by Sai and other reporters from Burma clearly indicates that the regime has the intent to go nuclear and it is trying and expending huge resources along the way.

Curtailing Burma's nuclear ambitions, however, may be easier than opening up the country to democracy, The Christian Science Monitor reported last year. Burma is expected to hold elections this year, although the National League for Democracy (NLD), whose leader Aung San Suu Kyi is under house arrest, has refused to participate.

Bilateral issues that might be finessed include efforts to curb Burma's illegal drugs production and a stop to any illicit dealings with nuclear-armed North Korea. But it will be much harder to find common ground on what constitutes free and fair elections, says [author on Burmese history and a former UN official Thant] Myint-U.

..."They might be willing to compromise on some issues. Whether they're willing to compromise on political issues is a huge question," says Myint-U.

The report comes a day after Burma topped the "worst of the worst" list of human rights violators.

IN PICTURES: Who has nukes?

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