Burma responds to IAEA request

Burma has reaffirmed its stance that allegations about its nuclear programme are false in a response to a request for clarification from the world’s leading atomic energy agency.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on 14 June wrote to Burma’s agency representative, Tin Win, questioning whether the reports that followed a five-year DVB investigation into Burma’s nuclear ambitions were true.

The state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper then reported on 18 June that a reply to the letter stated that the allegations are “groundless and unfounded”. There is “no activity related to uranium conversion, enrichment, reactor construction or operation has been carried out in the past, is ongoing or is planned for the future in Myanmar [Burma],” it said.

An IAEA official said that the correspondence was “an interesting development” but declined to comment further when questioned about what steps the watchdog will now take regarding Burma.

“All of our safeguard issues tend to be very sensitive and confidential at the behest of our member states,” he said. “Even in Iran we don’t describe what the next step is; where inspectors are going, when they’re going, and so on.”

Htay Aung, head of research at the Thailand-based Network for Democracy and Development (NDD), said the letter from Tin Win could be a reaction to “fears about international pressure or action from the IAEA”.

“We heard the IAEA is studying the facts and if it concludes after their findings…that the Burmese junta is taking steps to go nuclear, it will try to open an investigation into the country.”

He added that the watchdog “needs to be sceptical” about what the junta says in light of past experience of the ruling generals’ meanderings on the nuclear issue. When reports first surfaced in 2003 that the government was attempting to buy a nuclear reactor from Russia, “[the junta] first denied”, Htay Aung said.

“But later, when Russia’s ambassador admitted that they sold the reactor to Burma, Tin Win claimed it was only for peaceful purposes, for medical research. So they tried lying at first but after Russia admitted [the deal] they had no choice but to release the statement.”

That deal eventually fell through, but Burma’s intentions will now require further scrutiny in light of the recent evidence, mostly obtained from an army major who worked in a military factory, that they were attempting to build a nuclear bomb.

A former IAEA director, Robert Kelley, analysed the evidence gathered by DVB but concluded that Burma was still years from being capable of producing a weapon.

Additional reporting by Francis Wade

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