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Burma’s government has halted fledgling research on the peaceful use of nuclear power, the country’s defence minister said Saturday.
Lieutenant General Hla Min told an Asia security conference in Singapore that the academic research had not progressed much because of what he called practical constraints.
“In this new government, we have already given up all activities of nuclear issues. We have no future plans to extend on this,” he said through an interpreter.
Hla Min acknowledged that Burma’s previous government, dominated by the military, had started academic studies on the peaceful use of nuclear power.
“In the case of the nuclear issue, we have already said very clearly that it is not for defence, it is not for weapons,” he said at the summit, the Shangri-La Dialogue, which gathers mostly Asian defence officials.
“It’s just research in the past. We have not progressed much due to our constraints,” he said.
He added Burma had no “practical ways and means” to achieve its objectives, apparently suggesting the previous government lacked the funds to pursue the nuclear project.
A 2010 United Nations report accused Pyongyang of supplying banned nuclear and ballistic equipment to Burma, Iran and Syria. It followed the publication of a five-year investigation by DVB, which uncovered evidence that Burma was exploring nuclear technology “useful only for weapons”, although the programme was deemed to be at a primitive stage. The Burmese government refuted the findings.
In an interview with Singapore’s Straits Times published in January, Burma President Thein Sein denied his country was trying to obtain nuclear weapons from North Korea, and called the allegations “unfounded”.
In a landmark visit to Burma in December, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called on the country to sever “illicit ties” with Pyongyang to foster better relations with Washington.
The defence minister on Saturday said Burma’s links with North Korea resembled normal ties between any two countries.
But Hla Min pledged that “in the future, we will be open and transparent on this relationship, we will endeavour to do that”.
He also dismissed a suggestion from the audience that Burma allow inspectors from the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, into the country.
“We have nothing to check and nothing to see so it is irrelevant,” he said.
Over the past year, Thein Sein, an ex-general, has taken steps to address criticism about the country’s poor human rights record and suppression of political dissent.
The government has freed hundreds of political prisoners, eased media restrictions and welcomed Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s opposition back into politics.
Burma held historic by-elections on April 1 in which Suu Kyi won a seat in parliament, and has signalled it is ready to accept more foreign investment.