Roland Watson
November 2006

Dictator Watch has received information that Burma’s military junta, the SPDC, is intimately involved in one of the greatest security threats the world faces, nuclear proliferation. The SPDC is mining and refining uranium and then bartering it to North Korea and reportedly also Iran. In return it is receiving, from North Korea, missiles including SAMs (surface to air missiles) and also possibly ballistic missiles, and technical assistance on its own nuclear weapons program.

While we do not have independent confirmation of this information, the case it presents is compelling. Uranium ore is being mined in Moehnyin Township in Kachin State and Mogok in Mandalay Division. The ore is then transported to a refinery on the Irrawaddy River at Thabeikkyin (just over one hundred kilometers north of Mandalay), which is conveniently located between the two mine sites. There the ore is processed into a material known as “yellow cake,” which is likely what is being bartered.

Yellow cake is the raw material for the uranium enrichment process, which increases the proportion of uranium 235 isotope, the fissionable form of the element used in weapons and also nuclear fuel. The process involves adding fluorine to create uranium hexafluoride. This is then melted and pressurized to create uranium hexafluoride gas, which is subsequently filtered via gas diffusion, or put through a series of gas centrifuges, to yield higher concentrations of U235.

The SPDC has many secret facilities spread throughout Burma, but the most important are east of Mandalay in Maymyo (a.k.a Pyin-U-Lwin) and to the southwest of this in the Setkhya Mountains. The military complex at Maymyo includes Defense Industry buildings, the Defense Institute of Technology, and the Defense Services Academy. Approximately forty kilometers south of this the Chinese built a hydroelectric dam on the Myit Nge River. Local villagers who have fled to Thailand report that there is a tunnel from this dam leading to the defense complex, presumably to deliver electricity for weapons production. Just west of this, in the Setkhya Mountains, Burma’s “Nuclear Battalion” has in its own network of tunnels and reportedly is engaged in bomb-making research. Democratic Voice of Burma has reported that the center of this operation is near the villages of Lun Kyaw and Taung Taw, and that the latter is well guarded. Local villagers reported hearing huge explosions at night in April, June and September this year.

The implosion triggering system for a nuclear weapon uses conventional high explosives. The explosives surround the fissile material core and on detonation rapidly compress it to a supercritical state.

As background, beginning in 2001 Burma’s junta began a project to build a research reactor with Russian assistance (Miniatom) and training. Technicians who are sent to Russia are prohibited from seeing their families on their return to Burma. The families are given cell phones for communication. This program is also known to involve North Korean technicians and possibly Pakistani nuclear weapons experts who took refuge in Burma, also in 2001.

For missiles, the SPDC has made purchases from numerous countries including China, North Korea, Russia, and the Ukraine. These include different types of missiles: air-to-air missiles (AAMs), including for the MIG-29s it bought from Russia; SAMs; and perhaps surface-to-surface missiles (including ship-launched). The Congressional Research Service has just reported that between 2001 and 2005 North Korea sold forty ballistic missiles to other countries. Given that they are already working together, and with China, with whom they share a land corridor, it would be surprising if Burma were not a customer. North Korea is desperate for cash, and the SPDC has money to spare from its energy and other natural resource sales, and narcotics dealings (witness the recent extravagant wedding of Than Shwe’s daughter).

An additional question is if the junta is now constructing its own missile production facility, at the Defense Industry complex, using imported equipment and technical assistance.

The Chief of Staff of China’s Army, General Liang Guanglie, visited the Maymyo complex, specifically the Defense Institute of Technology, on October 24th. The conventional view of the trip is that it was to negotiate weapons sales and perhaps to initiate training. Dictator Watch believes that a visit from this high a military official would have had other purposes, likely concerning both Burma’s missile and nuclear weapons programs.

Proliferation involving Burma, including with the possibility that the SPDC will (or already has), obtained both ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons, has severe security implications for the region, notably Thailand and India, who would be exposed to the greatest possible threat. Also, China, under the new Security Council sanctions, is obliged to stop any transport of Burmese yellow cake through its territory to North Korea.

United Nations Under-Secretary Gambari is about to visit Burma, as a prelude to reporting to the Security Council. These issues of proliferation should be at the top of his investigation agenda. Further, he should document the ethnic cleansing now being committed against the Karen, and the longer-term genocide to which the Karen, Karenni and Shan have been subjected.

Gambari should also investigate the massacre against prison porters, news of which has just been released by the Karen Information Center. Two different and separate porters who escaped to the Karen National Union on October 19th reported that fifty prison porters had been executed in an area between the villages of Nor Soe and Gor Thay Doe, Taungoo District, Karen State. Prison porters are individuals who typically have been arrested for committing petty crimes and are then sent to the front lines to porter. Many are actually political prisoners, having been arrested for defying local authorities in some way. Also, these political prisoners, of which there are undoubtedly hundreds if not thousands in the country, are not included in the official political prisoner tally of 1,100 people, which is limited to pro-democracy activists.

The Burma Army brought some 600 prison porters from Kachin State, 200 to Nyaunglaybin District and 400 to Taungoo. The massacre was committed in Taungoo, by officers of Battalions 80 and 35, under Light Infantry Division 66. Forty-eight individuals were shot, one was beheaded, and one was beaten to death. The escapees reported that additional porters are being killed on a daily basis.

© Roland O. Watson 2006