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Myanmar Has Given Up All Atomic Ambitions, Defense Head Says

Myanmar's defense chief on Saturday asserted his government had given up its ambitions to launch an atomic energy program, which he said never really got off the ground, and has curbed its formerly tight military relations with North Korea, Reuters reported (see GSN, May 15).

Russia agreed in 2007 to export two reactors to Myanmar that would be powered by low-enriched uranium. However, the deal ultimately fell through when the Burmese junta decided it did not have the financial resources or management capacity to launch a nuclear energy production program, Myanmar President Thein Sein was reported to have said last month. Earlier this year, the president rejected all accusations of illegal nuclear weapons cooperation with the North as "unfounded" (see GSN, Jan. 31).

"We have already said very clearly it was not for defense, it was not for weapons, it was just research in the past," Defense Minister Lt. Gen. Hla Min said at a yearly regional security conference in Singapore. He said news organizations had overblown the extent of his country's nuclear work.

Participants at the Shangri-La Dialogue said Hla Min's spoke candidly about his country's past atomic ambitions, which they said showed how much the government has changed since the implementation of democratic reforms in the last year.

"In reality we were just beginning on doing academic studies. But in this new government we have already given up all activities on nuclear issues. And we have no further plans to extend on this," the lieutenant general said.

The atomic program never progressed very far as a result of "our constraints" as a country, he said. "There were no practical ways " to pursue the effort.

A Burmese dissident group in a 2010 expert analysis accused Myanmar of illegally acquiring uranium enrichment technology and other components for a nuclear arms effort from the North. Most of the information in the report came from documents and photographs smuggled out of the Southeast Asian nation by a military defector. Independent nuclear weapon experts, however, said the evidence on a possible nuclear weapons program was inconclusive (see GSN, June 4, 2010).

A special U.N. committee of experts with oversight on North Korean sanctions is probing potential prohibited arms dealings between Myanmar and the North, according to an unreleased report viewed recently by Reuters.

"According to our foreign policy, we have friendly relations with all countries so it is just a regular relationship," Hla Min said in describing current Myanmar-North Korea relations.

The defense minister said there was no reason for the International Atomic Energy Agency to dispatch inspectors to Myanmar. "We have nothing to check and nothing to see so it is irrelevant" (John O'Callaghan, Reuters/Chicago Tribune, June 2).

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