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Myanmar abandons nuke research: Defence minister

SINGAPORE, JUNE 2: Myanmar has abandoned research on a nuclear program that never progressed very far, and has stepped back from close military and political ties with North Korea, the Southeast Asian country’s defence minister said on Saturday.

News reports two years ago indicated Myanmar obtained technology for enriching uranium from North Korea along with parts for a nuclear weapons program.

The reports were based on interviews with an army major who was involved in the program and defected with files he said documented the project.

“We have already said very clearly it was not for defence, it was not for weapons, it was just research in the past,” the defence minister, Lieutenant General Hla Min, said at the Shangri-La Dialogue, an annual security forum in Singapore attended by senior regional civilian and military leaders.

Delegates said the comments were remarkably frank, and illustrated the sweeping reforms in Myanmar since it began emerging from decades of isolation and military rule last year.

The reforms have attracted the interest of foreign investors and persuaded Western governments to suspend sanctions.

Hla Min, speaking through an interpreter, said Myanmar maintained political and military ties with Pyongyang in the past but “because of our opening and our new efforts, we have stopped such relationships with North Korea.”

A UN panel of experts that monitors compliance with sanctions on North Korea is investigating reports of possible weapons-related deals between Pyongyang and Syria and Myanmar, the panel said in a confidential report seen by Reuters.

“According to our foreign policy, we have friendly relations with all countries so it is just a regular relationship,” the minister said of current dealings with North Korea.

Hla Min said Myanmar’s progress on the nuclear program had been exaggerated in the media.

“In reality we were just beginning on doing academic studies,” he said. “But in this new government we have already given up all activities on nuclear issues. And we have no further plans to extend on this.”

Hla Min said the nuclear program never got very far due to “our constraints” as a nation, adding “there were no practical ways” to advance it.

AFP report adds: The United States would be open to forging ties with Myanmar’s military if the country continues on a path of democratic reform, US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta said Saturday.

“Obviously we encourage the reforms that they are hoping to put in place,” Panetta told delegates at an Asia security summit in Singapore, the Shangri-La Dialogue.

“As you know the State Department has taken steps to relieve some of the sanctions that have been placed on Myanmar and try to encourage them again to move in the right direction,” he told representatives from 27 countries at the event, organised by the International Institute of Strategic Studies. “I think part and parcel of that, assuming that they are able to implement reforms and to continue the kind of political efforts at opening up their system, that a part and parcel of that would be discussions with regards to how we can improve our defence relationship with their country as well.” 

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