Witnesses in Myanmar claim to have seen evidence of secret nuclear and missile sites being built in remote jungle, according to secret US diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks, heightening concerns that the military regime is seeking to develop nuclear weapons.
A Myanmarese officer quoted in a cable from the US embassy in Myanmar said he had witnessed North Korean technicians helping to construct an underground facility in foothills more than 300 miles north-west of Rangoon.
"The North Koreans, aided by Myanmarese workers, are constructing a concrete-reinforced underground facility that is '500ft from the top of the cave to the top of the hill above'," according to the cable. The man is quoted as saying the North Koreans were "blowing concrete" into the excavation.
An expatriate businessman told the embassy in Rangoon he had seen a large barge carrying reinforced steel bar of a diameter that suggested a project larger than a factory. Other informants included dockworkers, who reported suspicious cargo.
The reports add rare detail to rumours that have circulated since 2002 that Myanmar is covertly seeking a nuclear bomb with the help of North Korea. Both countries have strenuously denied this in the past and Myanmar insists there are no North Koreans in the country.
The cables compound existing concern over Iran and North Korea's nuke programmes.
In a cable dated August 2004 titled "Alleged North Korean involvement in missile assembly and underground facility construction in Myanmar", one of the embassy staff wheedled information from an officer during a visit to Rangoon. The officer was in an engineering unit working at the site, where surface-to-air missiles were allegedly being assembled. The site is the Irrawaddy river town of Minbu in Magwe division, west-central Myanmar.
Myanmar has made no secret of wanting a civilian nuclear reactor, in part because of severe electricity shortages, and has signed a deal with Russia to build one. The project is yet to start because of lack of funds. A secret deal with North Korea would be in breach of international rules on nuclear proliferation.