Burma could face ASEAN expulsion if it goes nuclear

Sept 10, 2009 (DVB), Burma may be forced to revoke its membership of a regional Asia bloc if it is found to be building a nuclear plant for weapons, the bloc's chief said last week.

Although no hard evidence has emerged of Burma becoming nuclear, speculation over the regime's ambitions has heightened in recent months.

A report released in August after two years of investigations by an Australian academic and a Thailand-based journalist quoted two Burmese defectors as alleging that the government is attempting to construct a nuclear plant in the country's north.

The United States has also expressed concern about the growing relationship between Burma and North Korea, whom earlier this year confirmed it had carried out a nuclear test.

ASEAN, which by protocol follows a policy of non-interference in domestic matters of member states, appears to be increasingly uneasy about Burma's membership of the bloc.

Thailand, who holds the revolving ASEAN chair, has said in recent months that continuing unrest in Burma is tarnishing the bloc's image, an issue that will no doubt be compounded by rumours of a nuclear Burma.

The general secretary of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Surin Pitsuwan, said on Saturday that Burma could face expulsion if a nuclear plant is found, the Thai News Service reported today.

ASEAN has a status as a nuclear-free zone, following a 1995 treaty signed in Bangkok.

"It's a long-standing ASEAN instrument that we wish for Southeast Asia to be a nuclear weapons-free zone," a Thai foreign ministry official told DVB today.

"It's nuclear weapons that we are talking about; I don't believe it applies to nuclear energy."

What appears to be growing cooperation between Burma and North Korea was brought to light earlier this year following the revelation by DVB of North Korean involvement in a network of suspected military tunnels running throughout Burma.

Furthermore, a North Korean ship being tracked by the US navy on suspicion of carrying weaponry appeared to be heading towards Burma, before turning around.

Reporting by Than Win Htut

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