News / Asia

Burma's Military Relations with North Korea Under Scrutiny

Soldiers salute Burma's army chief General Min Aung Hlaing during a parade in Naypyitaw, Mar. 27, 2012.
Soldiers salute Burma's army chief General Min Aung Hlaing during a parade in Naypyitaw, Mar. 27, 2012.
Daniel Schearf
Burma's military relations with North Korea are under scrutiny after Japan acknowledged intercepting a shipment of materials officials say could be used for a nuclear program.  A U.S. special advisor visiting in March said Burma needs to convince the world they have severed military relations with Pyongyang if they want suspended sanctions fully lifted. 

Japan on Monday confirmed reports that customs officials last year seized a shipment of aluminum alloy rods, suspected of coming from North Korea, that could be used to make nuclear centrifuges.

Japanese media reported the shipment was bound for Burma but was intercepted from a Singaporean-flagged ship in August after a tip-off from the United States. 

The revelation raised concerns that, despite dramatic political reforms, Burma may be continuing to work on a secret nuclear weapons program and possibly violating U.N. sanctions against Pyongyang.

More reforms needed

Western countries have suspended most diplomatic and economic sanctions on Burma. But last week U.S. special advisor on Burma, Patrick Murphy, said sanctions would not be fully lifted without more political and human rights reforms - as well as a clear break with North Korea.

"We very much hope to be in a position to declare or to accept a declaration that the military relationship between the two countries has been severed.  And, we have fruitful dialogue on this issue with authorities here.  And, I think there is a very good understanding about the international concerns vis a vis North Korea," said Murphy.

Military relations with N. Korea

Burma's military government has long been a buyer of North Korean weapons and military supplies. 

Relations between the two were disrupted in 1983 when North Korean agents bombed the delegation of a visiting South Korean president in Rangoon, killing 17 people.

But the two pariah and military-run states resumed ties in secret just a few years later.

In 2010, as Burma was beginning its democratic transition, a defector alleged the military was running a secret nuclear weapons program. Analysts suspected North Korean support.

Nuclear issue

Robert Kelley is a former nuclear engineer with Los Alamos and the U.N. nuclear agency, the IAEA, who looked into the allegations. He says while there was evidence of a nuclear weapons program, he saw no signs of North Korean involvement.

"I can find no evidence whatsoever that North Korea was involved in the nuclear program.  And, I don't think you'll find anyone out there who has that evidence," he said. "If you look particularly at the U.S. government statements, as we've seen this rapprochement with Burma, they carefully have turned the talk away from nuclear only to missiles and conventional."

Reports of the suspect aluminum shipment surfaced in November as U.S. President Barack Obama was about to make history as the first sitting U.S. chief executive to visit Burma.

Earlier in the year, President Thein Sein had promised Burma would stop buying military hardware from Pyongyang and would sign an additional protocol with the IAEA that could allow international inspections.

Burma’s parliament has not yet approved measures that would allow inspections. Authorities also continue to deny operating any nuclear program.

Nuclear expert Kelley says although Burma is likely decades away from producing any nuclear materials, it should still come clean on the program and allow inspections.

"Well, in public, all I've seen is the opposite," he said. "They've said, we will not accept inspections because there's nothing to show.  So, they would be taking the attitude that we have no nuclear materials, no nuclear facilities, as you have defined them legally.  And, since we have nothing like that there's no place to take you, nothing to show you."

VOA requested an interview with Burma's presidential spokesman to respond to the allegations but he was not available for comment.

You May Like

Video One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Goodbye, New York

This is what the fastest-growing big cities in America have in common More

Job-Seeking Bangladeshis Risk Lives to Find Work

The number of Bangladeshi migrants on smugglers’ boats bound for Southeast Asian countries has soared in the past two years More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs