ABC's Senior Foreign Correspondent Jim Sciutto reports:
This has to go in the worst-case scenario file. Of all the isolated, repressive, mercurial regimes I’ve covered, Myanmar's and North Korea's probably have the least – read no – redeeming qualities. So a relationship celebrated with an exchange of nuclear technology would be frightening.
But that’s exactly what the US seems to believe is going on. Today, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in Thailand for a meeting of leaders from Southeast Asian nations, said such a technology exchange “is a threat to other of our allies and it’s a threat to further destabilization of the region.” She added, “North Korea has been a notorious proliferator of nuclear technology.”
Suspicions of nuclear ties grew earlier this month when a North Korean ship known to have transported weapons in the past appeared to be sailing for Myanmar. After being tracked by the US military, the ship turned around.
New video images also show the construction of a vast network of tunnels outside Myanmar’s jungle capital, Naypyidaw, built with help from North Korean engineers.
“I can’t confirm they will have nuclear weapons in a few years,” said Khin Maung Win, deputy executive director of the Norway-based Democratic Voice of Burma, which obtained some of the images. “But it is the hope of the military regime.”
Mr. Khun and other dissidents cite as further evidence reports that a Burmese military team traveled to Russia for training in nuclear technology. The junta also entered into a contract with Russia for a small nuclear reactor, though the deal fell through when the junta failed to come up with the money.
Mark Farmoner of the Burma Campaign UK notes that there are billions of dollars in government revenues that stay off the books, including proceeds from a hugely lucrative natural gas project with the French company Total.
However, Farmoner believes it’s equally plausible that the tunnels were built as a bunker to protect the country’s senior military leadership in the event of military attack. Like North Korea’s leaders, Myanmar’s military junta lives in constant fear of attack by a western power.
As for the North Korean ship, Farmoner said, “If the US was so concerned, it could have stopped and searched the North Korean ship under UN Security Council resolutions, but in the end, the US just followed it.”
Mr. Khin of the Democratic Voice of Burma disagreed. “I don’t think these are allegations. It may be the early stages but it is a true story.”