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Russia to build atomic plant for Burmese junta

Deal is likely to worsen US ties with Moscow
· UN inspection agency says it has not been informed

Luke Harding in Moscow
Thursday May 17, 2007
The Guardian

Russia has agreed to supply Burma with its first nuclear reactor, in a move that is likely to dismay the United States and raise fresh fears about the spread of nuclear technology around the world.

Russia's atomic energy agency said it had reached a deal with Burma's military junta to build a nuclear research centre. The plant will have a light water reactor with a capacity of 10MW. It will use 20% enriched nuclear fuel, the agency said.

Burma's science minister, U Thaung, signed a memorandum of understanding in Moscow on Tuesday with the agency's chief, Sergei Kiriyenko, officials said. A contract setting out where the plant would be built - and exactly how much it cost - would be agreed later, they added.

The deal will irritate the Bush administration at a time when US-Russian relations are already in deep trouble over a range of issues ranging from missile defence to the future of Kosovo. It comes ahead of a difficult EU-Russia summit today and tomorrow in the Volga town of Samara.

Burma has been under US and international sanctions since 1990, when the military junta refused to accept the election victory of the opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi.

Since then Russia, along with China, has become a major backer and supplier of arms to the Burmese regime. The US is also unhappy about Russia helping Iran to build a $2bn (£1bn) nuclear facility at Bushehr. Washington suspects Iran of developing nuclear weapons.

Yesterday Russia's federal atomic energy agency insisted that Burma had a right to peaceful nuclear technology - and said that there was "no way" it could use the reactor to develop nuclear missiles. The agency's spokesman, Sergei Novikov, told the Guardian: "It's impossible to use it for anything other than civilian purposes. It can't be used for military nuclear programmes." Asked why Burma's government wanted a nuclear reactor, he replied: "I don't know."

Mr Novikov then suggested: "They want to make a first start in the peaceful use of nuclear technology."

The Kremlin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, also rejected criticism. "No one is arguing about the right of every state to have peaceful nuclear energy," he said. "We can only welcome achievements in this sector of industry, which is very developed and very safe from the point of view of non-proliferation."

Russian officials say the research centre - which will include laboratories and a facility for processing and burying nuclear waste - will produce only a small amount of electricity. Its main purpose will be to produce medical isotopes for use in cancer treatments.

They conceded, however, that Burma would probably build a much larger nuclear reactor at some point. The atomic agency pointed out that the project in Burma, which is a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, would come under International Atomic Energy Agency control.

Yesterday, however, an IAEA official said Burma had not "informed" it about the plan. Any reactor would be subject to safety inspections by the UN agency, the official said.

Construction of the reactor will be handled by the state-owned Atomstroiexport, which is controlled by Russia's atomic agency. "We are currently at the state of declaration of intentions," its spokeswoman, Irina Yesipova, told the Guardian yesterday.

The deal is a long time in coming. The project was first floated in 2000 but apparently collapsed in 2003 because of Burma's inability to find the hard currency needed to pay for construction costs. Under the deal, about 350 Burma scientists would be invited to Russia to learn about nuclear technology, Mr Novikov said.

Analysts believe the country's military leadership has sought Russia's help in an attempt to balance its traditional and lop-sided dependence on China. Intriguingly, the move comes a month after Burma restored diplomatic relations with North Korea after a gap of 15 years.

Burma's capital, Rangoon, suffers from frequent power cuts as the country's economy struggles under the weight of decades of economic mismanagement. Some 240 miles north of Rangoon, the junta's newly built capital, Nay Pyi Taw, is basking in light, visitors report.

The military has run Burma since 1962. It ignored Ms Suu Kyi's landslide 1990 election victory. She has been under house arrest ever since.

Going nuclear

As well as Burma, Russia is already building seven nuclear power plants in Iran, China, India and Bulgaria. It also agreed on Tuesday to refurbish four old nuclear reactors in Hungary, built in the early 1980s.

The Kremlin insists all countries have a right to develop peaceful nuclear technology. Moscow's most controversial project is the construction of Iran's first nuclear power station in the Gulf seaport of Bushehr.

To Washington's delight, work on the project stopped earlier this year in a row over unpaid bills. The US accuses Iran of developing an illicit nuclear bomb programme - a charge Tehran denies.

Russia's state-owned company Atomstroiexport, will build Burma's new nuclear reactor. Yesterday's Kommersant newspaper put the cost to Burma's military regime at $50m-$70m (£25m-£35m).

Burma: Security Council Should Impose Arms Embargo
Weapons Sales by India, China and Russia Fuel Abuses, Strengthen Military Rule

(New York, October 10, 2007) – The United Nations Security Council should impose and enforce a mandatory arms embargo on Burma because of continuing massive violations of human rights, Human Rights Watch said today. India, China, Russia, and other nations are supplying Burma with weapons that the military uses to commit human rights abuses and to bolster its ability to maintain power.

“It’s time for the Security Council to end all sales and transfers of arms to a government that uses repression and fear to hang onto power,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Instead of continuing to protect Burma’s abusive generals, China and Russia should join other Security Council members to cut off the instruments of repression.”  
India appears to be one of the two main suppliers of advanced modern arms to the Burmese military. Earlier this year, India sold Burma two BN-2 Defender maritime surveillance aircraft that India had bought from the United Kingdom in the 1980s. The aircraft were delivered in August despite the British government’s objections that they were being supplied to a country under a European Union arms embargo. Later this year, India sold T-55 tanks and 105mm artillery pieces to the Burmese military. As it wages war against ethnic insurgents, the military routinely uses weapons such as artillery and mortars in conflict areas to destroy villages and exact retributions against civilian settlements.  
India is currently preparing to send Burma aircraft, artillery, armored personnel carriers, tanks, ships, and a host of small arms in the next year. Perhaps most alarming, India has offered to sell newly developed Advanced Light Helicopters (ALH) to Burma, manufactured by Hindustan Aeronautical Limited (HAL). These helicopters, if delivered, would give the Burmese military a sophisticated weapon platform to fire rockets and guns, which could be used with devastating effect against political demonstrations in urban areas or rural villagers.  
According to a recent report from Saferworld and Amnesty International, the Advanced Light Helicopters use superior European rockets and guns, as well as powerful French engines. Human Rights Watch urged the manufacturers and countries where these products are made to call on the Indian government to end sales to Burma and to ensure proper monitoring and implementation of end-use agreements.  
“India’s close relationship with the Burmese military is a discredit to the ‘world’s largest democracy,’” said Adams. “The Indian authorities should be leading the efforts to end the supply of arms being used against the democracy movement in Burma.”  
China is the other main arms supplier. It has supplied Burma with advanced helicopter gunships, arms production technology, and support equipment such as trucks and vehicles. Chinese-manufactured Mi-8 helicopter gunships have been photographed supporting Burmese military actions in eastern Burma where Burmese troops have committed numerous war crimes against civilians and massive displacement in its attacks on ethnic minority separatist groups. Beijing has also supplied small arms, including mortars, landmines, and assault rifles, as well as assistance in setting up an indigenous small-arms production capability. China has supplied a vast array of advanced military hardware to Burma, including fighter planes, naval vessels and tanks, and other infantry support weapons.  
“China says it wants stability and a peaceful solution to the crisis in Burma,” said Adams. “But as long as Beijing continues to arm the Burmese military and give it political cover, the situation in Burma will remain violently unstable.”  
Russia is also a noted supplier of arms to Burma, which includes a deal for MiG-29 fighter planes in 2002.  
South Korean companies including Daewoo International Corporation and several others have been accused of illegally boosting the capacity of the Burmese army to produce weaponry. Daewoo reportedly supplied technology and equipment to build a factory to produce mortar rounds near the town of Prome, leading to South Korean investigations and indictments against company officials.  
North Korea has supplied truck-borne multiple launch rocket systems (MLRS) and artillery pieces to Burma. North Korean engineers have also been contracted to build an underground tunnel complex at the new national capital at Nay Pyi Daw in central Burma, where the military leadership is based.  
Burma has also reportedly received weapons from Israel. In 2005, Israel was reported to have sold 150 Brazilian EE-9 Cascavels light tanks to Burma.  
Human Rights Watch said that an arms embargo should also include a ban against training the Burmese military, paramilitary, and police forces, all of which have been used to crush the pro-democracy movement in Burma. According to information received by Human Rights Watch, there are hundreds of Burmese defense forces officers being trained in military academies in Russia on nuclear physics, artillery techniques, and computer technology. Exiled Burmese media groups report that cyber-warfare activities that hacked their sites in the past week originated in Moscow. Russia and the Ukraine also have a number of technical staff based in Burma to train Burmese air force and army personnel. Australia has included Burmese police and military officers in its counterterrorism training workshops at centers in Indonesia.  
Other nations involved in training the Burmese military include China, which continues to train fighter pilots following the sale of F-7 Airguard fighter planes in the 1990s. The recent sales of advance weaponry from India will also require training assistance. India has also offered Special Forces training to Burmese military units to aid joint operations along the shared border along northeast India and western Burma.  
“The nations of the world are arming and training the Burmese military at the same time that they condemn Burma’s human rights violations,” Adams said. “These countries should back up their rhetoric with actions to avoid complicity in attacks on the Burmese people.”  
The Burmese spend an estimated 40 percent of the government budget on the military, while combined health and education expenditure is among the lowest in Asia. Military-run hospitals and schools are the best in the country, while civilian hospitals are poorly funded and cannot respond to the widespread health crisis in HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria. While Burma’s people are among the poorest in the region, senior military officials live lavish lifestyles. Instead of working to improve the lives of its people, the military also routinely seizes land from civilians for defense establishments and frontline bases, using forced labor in construction.  
“The world should insist that the Burmese government address the country’s massive poverty and build up its health and education infrastructure,” said Adams. “Instead, many countries are draining Burma of its limited resources through military sales, profiting handsomely while many Burmese struggle to put food on the table.”

Human rights no barrier for Myanmar arms deals

Grant Peck, Associated Press

BANGKOK, Thailand -- Military-ruled Myanmar is a pariah state to many because of its dismal human rights record, slapped with an arms embargo by the U.S. and European Union. But to some of the world's other top weapons dealers, Myanmar is just another customer.

India, the world's most populous democracy, and North Korea, Asia's most repressive dictatorship, are both suppliers to Myanmar's military, and neither has signaled it would stop business after the junta's crackdown on pro-democracy protests last month.

As is the case with the biggest suppliers to Myanmar -- Russia, China and Ukraine -- such arms sales may be widely criticized for helping the regime stay in power, but they don't clearly violate any laws, treaties or international agreements.

"Together these countries can supply anything Burma could possibly want, and they have more or less done so in the last 15 years," said Siemon Wezeman, a researcher for the Arms Transfers Project of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, or SIPRI.

Most known arms transfers to Myanmar are legal, and some are even reported to the United Nations. But other transactions are murkier, as countries more sensitive to international opinion apparently try to mask their activities. Analysts say these include India, as well as Israel and Singapore.

The only restrictions on selling military equipment to Myanmar, also known as Burma, are self-imposed. The tightest embargoes are maintained by the United States and the European Union, while several other nations, such as South Korea, have less sweeping or informal sanctions.

The U.S. and European restrictions ban sales and re-sales of virtually all military-related equipment to Myanmar. But it is difficult to stop third parties from selling used equipment and licensed technology.

As a result, the junta has become the eager client of countries that "have garnered reputations for being willing to supply almost any regime," said Dr. Paul Holtom, another SIPRI researcher.

Myanmar's army of more than 400,000 is the second-largest in Southeast Asia after Vietnam's, and bigger on a per capita basis. Because it is one of Asia's poorest countries, its military has until recently operated without much of the sophisticated weaponry of its neighbors, but has made huge modernization efforts since 1988.

The reasons for selling to Myanmar are many -- and first among them is profit.

By far the largest amount of Myanmar's arms have been imported from China, according to SIPRI's register of transfers of major conventional weapons. Its database, which represents conservative estimates, shows Myanmar importing $1.69 billion in military goods from China between 1988 -- when the current junta took power after violently crushing a pro-democracy uprising -- and 2006.

Goods bought from China over years have included armored carriers, tanks, fighter aircraft, radar systems, surface-to-air missiles and short-range air-to-air missile systems. Russia comes in second at $396 million, then Serbia and Ukraine.

Geopolitical considerations also play a role in weapons sales to Myanmar.

India, for instance, had been a harsh critic of the 1988 crackdown. But it apparently overcame its aversion to dealing with the regime after watching China gain a commercial, political and military foothold in Myanmar, posing a potential strategic threat, especially as it opened up the prospect of Indian Ocean access for Beijing.

India sought to enlist Myanmar's cooperation in its long-running struggles against separatist groups in its northeast.

India shows up on SIPRI registry beginning in 2005. India has confirmed the delivery of two secondhand, British-made BN-2 Islander light transport aircraft, but insists they are not fitted out for military use. Reports of transfers of light artillery, armored personnel carriers and tanks remain unconfirmed.

Most controversial has been the planned sale of Indian- manufactured ALH attack helicopters. Various parts of the aircraft are supplied or made under license from several countries that embargo arms to Myanmar. Anti-junta campaigners insist the sale -- which is now in limbo -- would be in violation of the EU embargo, and have put India on notice that it could endanger commercial links with Europe.

India denies supplying weapons to Myanmar, but has acknowledged the two countries have defense agreements to help fight rebels on common border.

Many countries are eager to unload aging equipment;

Myanmar is a willing buyer.

Russia, Serbia and Ukraine all have large Cold War-era defense industries and leftover hardware, and are intent in wringing profit from them.

Israel is also considered by arms researchers to be a major supplier of weapons and arms technology to Myanmar, though few details can be verified. A 2000 report by the London-based publication Jane's Intelligence Review detailed extensive alleged links, but the Israeli government denies any arms sales.

Most mystery shrouds the junta's deals with North Korea, widely believed to have supplied weapons such as Scud-type missiles that other nations are unwilling or unable to provide.

Details of Pyongyang's dealings with Myanmar are hard to verify, because the two nations are among the world's most secretive. Impoverished North Korea is cited by researchers as a "source of last resort" for arms buyers.

who cannot obtain what they want elsewhere.

Pyongyang is also hampered by the low quality of its arms.

"Burma does not (yet) need North Korea to supply rather inferior weaponry when it can get better stuff from Russia, China or a host of other nations," Wezeman wrote in an e-mail response to questions.

Still, SIPRI lists Pyongyang as delivering 16 large artillery pieces to Myanmar in 1999, but reports in such publications as Jane's Intelligence Review and Far Eastern Economic Review suggest much more extensive dealings.

Myanmar is said to have sought to purchase submarines from Pyongyang -- a deal believed to have fallen through -- and surface- to-surface missiles such as Pyongyang has supplied to other nations.

Russia, China Veto Resolution On Burma
Security Council Action Blocks U.S. Human Rights Effort

By Colum Lynch
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 13, 2007; A12

UNITED NATIONS, Jan. 12 -- China and Russia on Friday jointly vetoed a U.S.-sponsored resolution criticizing Burma's human rights record, striking a blow to the Bush administration's year-long campaign to use the U.N. Security Council to spotlight the repressive rule of Burma's military junta.

Friday's vote was part of a broader diplomatic effort by Beijing and Moscow to prevent the United States and its Western allies from using the 15-nation council to censure some of the countries particularly known for rights abuses, including governments in Belarus, Sudan and Zimbabwe.

They were joined by one of the council's most influential Third World countries, South Africa. It also opposed the U.S. resolution on the grounds that the Security Council has no mandate to scold or sanction Burma, also known as Myanmar, for abuses on its own soil.

"We believe that the situation in this country does not pose any threat to international or regional peace; this opinion is shared by a large number of states, including most importantly those neighboring Myanmar," Russia's ambassador, Vitaly I. Churkin, told the council. "We find that attempts aimed at using the Security Council to discuss issues outside its purview are unacceptable."

The United States secured nine votes for the resolution in the 15-nation council. Congo, Qatar and Indonesia abstained, arguing that the U.N. Human Rights Council is the appropriate venue for addressing Burma's human rights record.

Despite the tepid support for the U.S. initiative, virtually all council members -- including China -- expressed concerns about Burma's behavior. Indonesia's envoy, Rezlan Ishar Jenie, urged Burma's government to heed international calls to restore "democracy and human rights" to the country.

Burma's ambassador, Kyaw Tint Swe, praised China, Russia and South Africa for opposing the resolution, which he said was based on "patently false information."

The Bush administration's acting U.N. ambassador, Alejandro Wolff, said the United States was "deeply disappointed" by the council's failure to confront Burma. But he said the United States decided to force a vote to assure the Burmese people that "we won't forget you."

The vote initially faced resistance from some officials within the State Department and from European envoys, who feared it would damage U.S. and European relations with China while exposing the depth of Third World opposition to Security Council interference in Burma's affairs.

But President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice decided it was worth making the point on a matter of principle, according to U.S. officials.

R. Nicholas Burns, the undersecretary of state for political affairs, challenged suggestions that the effort had backfired, highlighting a growing rift between the West and the developing world over human rights. "We don't consider this a defeat," Burns said. "We did the right thing. We stood up for universal human values."

Burma's generals have ruled the country since 1962, presiding over one of the world's most repressive governments. U.N. rights monitors have accused the government of conducting a brutal counterinsurgency campaign that has displaced more than 1 million people. The government has also held Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest for most of the period since her political party, the National League for Democracy, won a landslide election victory in 1990. The military refused to recognize the election results.

The defeated resolution called on Burma's rulers to release Suu Kyi and more than 1,100 of her political supporters, cease attacks on the country's ethnic minority, and begin a democratic transition. It also called on Burma to halt the widespread use of rape by the armed forces and to back efforts by the International Labor Organization to end forced labor in Burma.

China led opposition to the U.S. initiative, highlighting its emergence as an increasingly assertive diplomatic force at the United Nations. Last year, it played a central role in the selection of South Korean Ban Ki Moon as the United Nations' first Asian secretary general in more than 35 years.

This is only the fifth time that China's Communist government has cast its veto since it joined the United Nations in 1971, a tiny fraction of the 254 vetoes cast by the other four permanent members of the Security Council. The United States, for instance, has cast its veto 82 times and Russia (formerly the Soviet Union) has cast its veto 122 times. The last time China and Russia cast a double veto was in 1972.

"No country is perfect," Chinese Ambassador Wang Guangya told the council. "Similar problems exist in other countries as well."