Experts See Signs of Potential N. Korean Work at Myanmar Military Site

Global Security Newswire Staff
July 14, 2014, 9:27 a.m.

Ex­perts see in­dic­a­tions of pos­sible North Korean activ­ity at a mys­ter­i­ous mil­it­ary site in My­an­mar that, by some ac­counts, may be linked to chem­ic­al arms.

The Burmese gov­ern­ment last week sen­tenced five loc­al journ­al­ists to a dec­ade of hard labor after they were de­clared guilty of air­ing state secrets with their early 2014 re­port about a secret mil­it­ary fa­cil­ity in the cent­ral Mag­we re­gion. The in­vest­ig­at­ive re­port in the now-de­funct Unity journ­al said the com­plex was man­u­fac­tur­ing chem­ic­al-war­fare ma­ter­i­als.

While ex­pert opin­ion is di­vided about wheth­er the plant is pro­du­cing chem­ic­al weapons, some spe­cial­ists be­lieve it likely that North Korea is in­volved in some ca­pa­city, the Bangkok Post re­por­ted on Sunday.

“It’s not a chem­ic­al weapons fact­ory, but re­portedly a fact­ory where they pro­duce alu­min­um cas­ing for mis­siles, and ‘the Chinese tech­ni­cians’ they men­tion in the [Unity] art­icle are most likely North Koreans,” said long­time journ­al­ist Ber­til Lint­ner, who has re­por­ted ex­tens­ively on North Korea.

Jef­frey Lewis, an East Asia non­pro­lif­er­a­tion ex­pert who has co-writ­ten about the chem­ic­al weapon pos­sib­il­it­ies of the mil­it­ary site, told the Post he was par­tic­u­larly in­trigued by de­tec­ted evid­ence of for­eign work­ers.  “[The Burmese Dir­ect­or­ate of De­fense In­dus­tries] has been sanc­tioned for deal­ing with North Korea, and this site ap­pears sim­il­ar to an­oth­er loc­a­tion near Minbu where North Koreans are be­lieved to live and work,” Lewis said.

“Work­ing from satel­lite im­ages, it would ap­pear that DDI’s activ­it­ies are ex­pand­ing, not con­tract­ing, des­pite prom­ises to stop any il­li­cit pro­grams and co­oper­a­tion with North Korea,” said Lewis, who dir­ects the James Mar­tin Cen­ter for Non­pro­lif­er­a­tion Stud­ies’ East Asia Non­pro­lif­er­a­tion Pro­gram.

Dan Kasz­eta, a former U.S. Army chem­ic­al weapons of­ficer, said if My­an­mar were pro­du­cing chem­ic­al arms, it likely would have a de­veloped a test­ing and train­ing pro­gram for their use — something not yet in evid­ence.

“A strong in­dic­at­or is some kind of test­ing re­gime to see if weapons ac­tu­ally work,” Kasz­eta said. “It seems un­likely that a coun­try would go to the massive ef­fort of mak­ing chem­ic­al weapons without see­ing wheth­er their chosen de­liv­ery mech­an­isms work.”

My­an­mar has signed but not yet rat­i­fied the Chem­ic­al Weapons Con­ven­tion.

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