BANGKOK (AP) — Documents smuggled out of Myanmar by an army defector indicate its military regime is trying to develop nuclear weapons and long-range missiles, and North Korea is probably assisting the program, an expatriate media group said Friday.
The Norway-based Democratic Voice of Burma 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 group concluded in a report that Myanmar is still far from producing a nuclear weapon.
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.
Myanmar's junta, which has been condemned worldwide for its human rights abuses, has no hostile neighbors. The military's prime concern is suppressing dissidents at home and battling several small-scaled insurgencies.
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.
The group, which operates Oslo-based television and radio stations, said the defector, Sai Thein Win, was an army major who was trained in Myanmar as a defense engineer and later in Russia as a missile expert. It said he had access to secret Myanmar nuclear facilities including a nuclear battalion north of Mandalay "charged with building up a nuclear weapons capability."
It said the documents it obtained were examined by Robert Kelley, an American nuclear scientist and former director in the International Atomic Energy Agency who concluded that Myanmar "is probably mining uranium and exploring nuclear technology that is only useful for weapons."
The group said its report was based on a five-year study that indicated that North Korea was involved in assisting the program.
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).
The group said the documents obtained from the defector show a number of 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.