Myanmar: The Nuclear Mystery


June 16, 2010: Over the last two decades, as natural gas deposits were developed along the west coast (Arakan and Chin states), the number of soldiers in those areas has increased enormously (from two to 48 battalions) and more and more land has been seized from tribal owners, for the troops, and the economic infrastructure for the natural gas operations. These changes are usually carried out by corrupt officials, and the tribesmen get screwed. So a low level war continues in these two states, continually stoked by new government misbehavior.

The air force is expanding its fleet of Chinese K-8 trainers to fifty aircraft (the first were ordered in the late 1990s). This is more than are needed for training, but that is because the K-8 turned out to be a good reconnaissance and light bomber aircraft, for hunting down tribal rebels. The K-8 pilot can spot a new camp in mountain forests, and drop a few bombs on it.

Earlier in the month, U.S. and UN intelligence officials announced that they believed Myanmar was importing North Korean nuclear weapons technology. This made little sense, but the intelligence seemed to indicate that something nuclear was going on. The government took a little while, and then officially denied the allegations. Myanmar gets most of its weapons from China, with whom it shares a land border. But North Korea will trade whatever it has (ballistic missiles, nuclear weapons tech, infantry weapons and such) to whoever can pay. Since the military establishment that runs Myanmar is trying to legitimize itself with new elections (where men who recently "retired" from the military are running as civilians), why stir things up with a troublesome (diplomatically) effort to develop nukes? One possibility is that Myanmar is partnering with North Korea to help market and distribute North Korean nuclear weapons technology.

The low level war with tribal rebels, and those opposed to the military dictatorship, continues. It's mostly a low key battle that is purposely kept out of the Myanmar media, and is very difficult for foreign journalists to cover. Every month or so, the Myanmar media will report that a terrorist bomb has been found and disabled. News of major explosions (that cause a lot deaths) gets out, but many smaller attacks go unreported. So do air force bombings of rebel camps (or villages suspected of being bases). Army patrols, and abuse of tribal peoples, rarely makes the news. Occasionally, tribal refugees fleeting to Thailand will report new atrocities. But there's nothing new about the bad behavior of the troops (rape, robbery and general destruction) in the tribal areas. It's been going on for decades.

June 5, 2010:  China began construction of two pipelines (each about 750 kilometers long) to carry natural gas and petroleum from Myanmar to China. This solidifies relations with China, and gives both nations an incentive to keep the tribal violence down along the border. For the first time in 16 years, the Chinese head of state visited Myanmar, to discuss the new, closer, relations between the two nations.


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