Burma Secretly Trying To Build Nuclear Weapons, Leaked Docs Show

VIENNA AP) – Secret documents and hundreds of photos smuggled out of Myanmar by an army defector indicate its military regime is trying to develop nuclear weapons and long-range missiles, a former senior U.N. nuclear inspector said Friday.

Robert Kelley said the evidence he has seen and heard from the defector is the most compelling yet to support suspicions that Myanmar is interested in atomic arms.

“This is probably the best source … since Mordechai Vanunu,” he told The Associated Press, referring to the former Israeli nuclear technician whose leak to a British newspaper in 1954 revealed details of the Jewish state’s nuclear program and led to the now generally accepted belief that it has nuclear weapons. “I think he’s got the same kind of inside information.”

Kelley, who came to the International Atomic Energy Agency after working at Los Alamos – one of two U.S. laboratories researching nuclear weapons design – retired from the Vienna-based IAEA in 2008 after holding senior positions. He was commenting on a report he co-authored that was released Friday by the Democratic Voice of Burma, an expatriate media group located in Norway.

The report said the defector had been involved in the nuclear program and smuggled out extensive files and photographs describing experiments with uranium and specialized equipment needed to build a nuclear reactor and develop enrichment capabilities.

But the report concluded that Myanmar is still far from producing a nuclear weapon.

“From what I’ve seen, the quality of workmanship is extremely poor, that the level of professionalism in the things they are building, the drawings they are making is extremely poor, said Kelley.

“I am not saying that this is a nuclear weapons program that is about to scare us tomorrow,” he said. “What I am saying is the intent to build nuclear weapons is much more clear now.”

The IAEA, which works on preventing nuclear proliferation, had no comment. But an IAEA official, who asked for anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the issue, said Kelley was extremely well-respected within the agency and in the general nuclear expert community.

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Kelley said the information he analyzed had to his knowledge not yet been shared either with the IAEA or any government.

He described the defector, Sai Thein Win, as an army major trained in Myanmar as a defense engineer and later in Russia as a missile expert. He said he had access to secret Myanmar nuclear facilities including a nuclear battalion north of Mandalay “charged with building up a nuclear weapons capability.”

Sai fled in February. His evidence – electronic documents and photos – as well as his testimony, reveal worrisome specifics of Myanmar’s nuclear puzzle, said Kelley.

Experts already have built – and possibly used – equipment to make uranium metal, the material used for fissile warheads, he said.

The documents obtained from the defector show a number of other components used in nuclear weapons and missile technology, including a missile fuel pump impeller, chemical engineering equipment that can be used to make compounds used in uranium enrichment, and nozzles used to separate uranium isotopes into bomb materials.

“The total picture is very compelling. Burma is trying to build pieces of a nuclear program, specifically a nuclear reactor to make plutonium and a uranium enrichment program,” the report said.

Kelley, in his comments to the AP, also said that these and other activities “only make sense in the context of a weapons program and not a civilian program.”

Some of the photos have been taken inside two large buildings housing massive machine tool and dye equipment suitable for machining either missile components or the large reactor parts like a containment basin for radioactive runoff, Kelley said.

He described the differences between photos taken during end-use inspections by German experts from the company supplying the equipment and afterward as revealing.

“When the Germans are there and they are looking at the display boards … there are pictures of them machining crankshafts and working on car engines,” said Kelley. “When the Germans leave, the poster boards are replaced with posters of the objects we are seeing them make for their nuclear program.”

Some of the workers in civilian clothing during such visits are later seen wearing military uniforms, said Kelley.

Still, he emphasized that any such manufacturing was restricted to prototypes, adding Myanmar was technologically incapable of serial production of sensitive nuclear components.

On Thursday, U.S. Sen. Jim Webb announced he was postponing a trip to Myanmar because of new allegations that it was collaborating with North Korea to develop a nuclear program.

Webb, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on East Asia and Pacific Affairs, referred to documents provided by a Myanmar army defector.

Myanmar’s military government has denied similar allegations in the past, but suspicions have mounted recently that the impoverished Southeast Asian nation has embarked on a nuclear program.

Last month, U.N. experts monitoring sanctions imposed against North Korea over its nuclear and missile tests said their research indicated it was involved in banned nuclear and ballistic missile activities in Iran, Syria and Myanmar, which is also called Burma.

Kelley said that, while there was a clear North Korean footprint in Burma’s missile program, he could discern no overt signs of foreign involvement in the secretive country’s nuclear strivings.

“There is a memorandum of understanding with DPRK to build Scuds, some very solid evidence,” he said, referring to the Soviet-developed short to medium-range missile that has been adapted by North Korea.

Documents obtained earlier showed that North Korea was helping Myanmar dig a series of underground facilities and develop missiles with a range of up to 3,000 kilometers (1,860 miles).

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