BY KENNY CHEE
THE Myanmar ambassador to Singapore has told my paper that renewed allegations that the country has a secret nuclear programme were false, but experts said new evidence raises more suspicions regarding alleged nuclear equipment purchases by the reclusive nation.
When asked at the end of the three-day Shangri-La Dialogue security conference yesterday on fresh media reports on the issue, Ambassador Win Myint said they were "not true". "It stereotypes our country," he said. "If (we wanted to) know how to produce nuclear bombs, we need infrastructure and technology."
On reports that North Korea had been helping Myanmar build up nuclear capabilities, Mr Win Myint said: "Some communities and societies... stereotype our country."
Last week, Norway-based media group Democratic Voice of Burma released a report that said military-ruled Myanmar was secretly building a nuclear programme and has intentions of creating a nuclear bomb.
The report said a defector involved in the nuclear programme smuggled out extensive files and photos describing experiments with uranium and specialised gear needed to build a nuclear reactor and develop enrichment capabilities. It said Myanmar was still not close to a weapon.
United States Senator Jim Webb nixed a Myanmar trip last Thursday due to the report, according to Reuters.
Last July, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed worries that Myanmar was receiving nuclear technology from North Korea and called it a threat to US allies.
Security experts say the latest nuclear allegations have raised more questions and concerns.
Mr Mark Fitzpatrick, Senior Fellow for Non-proliferation at The International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), told reporters at the Shangri-La Dialogue that the latest developments on Myanmar were discussed on the sidelines and at at least one closed-door session.
The London-based Mr Fitzpatrick later told my paper Myanmar has consistently denied claims it is pursuing a nuclear programme. But he said Myanmar had imported very sophisticated machine tools which could be used for making missile parts or possibly nuclear energy or nuclear weaponry. "One of the gravest questions is what is the purpose of these...tools," he said.
Dr Tim Huxley, executive director of IISS Asia, said Myanmar has moved another notch closer to being seen as a rogue state with the new reports, and it was "courting serious consequences" for not being open.
Myanmar Deputy Minister of Defence Aye Myint was to attend the forum but pulled out last week. Asked why, Mr Win Myint said it is because Premier Wen Jiabao of China was visiting Myanmar at the same time as the conference.
For more my paper stories click here.