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Rumours about possible weapons exports from China and North Korea to Burma in mid April have renewed fears about Burma’s nuclear ambitions, and prompted a warning from a senior US envoy who visited Burma this week.
Kurt Campbell, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, said in a statement following meetings with senior Burmese junta leaders that “we have urged Burma’s senior leadership to abide by its own commitment to fully comply with UN Security Council Resolution 1874”.
The UN resolution was enacted in June 2009 after Pyongyang conducted an underground nuclear explosion in May of the same year. Crucially, it extends an arms embargo on North Korea.
“Recent developments call into question that commitment,” he added. “I have asked the Burmese leadership to work with the United States and others to put into place a transparent process to assure the international community that Burma is abiding by its international commitments.
“Without such a process, the United States maintains the right to take independent action within the relevant frameworks established by the international community.”
Campbell’s suggestion of “recent developments” seem to validate claims that during the ‘Thingyan’ water festival in Burma in April, vessels from North Korea and China docked in Burma, supposedly with arms.
Speaking to DVB, the director of Dictator Watch, Roland Watson, said: “It is believed that these shipments included missiles of an unspecified nature and components either directly for a nuclear program or materials that would ultimately that would contribute to a program.”
The issue of shipments from North Korea to Burma came to the world’s attention following the nuclear test in North Korea and an incident in which a vessel known as the Kang Nam 1 appeared to be heading from North Korea to Burma last summer. It was trailed by the US navy before eventually turning back.
“As Kurt Campbell…seems to be saying, we think it likely the US knew about these shipments,” said Watson. “We are very concerned that the US did not move to block them as it effectively blocked the Kang Nam 1 shipment last summer, and we are concerned that whatever was on the Kang Nam 1 has now been delivered.”
Rumours have also circulated that the vessels arrived during the water festival to avoid arousing suspicions. Whether the cargo was military or not, however, it would still have violated the strict and binding embargo that resolution 1874 places on North Korea.
Watson questioned whether US hesitancy in dealing with the vessels could have been due to the presence of the Chinese vessel, either if it contained nuclear materials, or was simply delivering shipments of arms.
The Chinese were however party to the UN resolution, with the Chinese ambassador to North Korea, Zhang Yesui, stating at the time that Pyongyang’s actions showed “disregard for the international community’s common objective”.
Watson however believes that China is “intimately involved in [Burma’s] nuclear program as well,” whilst Russia is also suspected of assisting. China is one of the junta’s main benefactors, with huge investments in the country. It has however recently been suggested that they are concerned by their troubled shared border.