'Russia trained 4,000 Myanmar nuclear officers'
Russia has trained 4,185 Myanmar military officers in nuclear sciences over the past decade but only a "sprinkling" of scholars have pursued the positive uses of the energy source, a Myanmar academic said on Friday.Updated: Aug 06, 2010, 19:09 IST
Russia has trained 4,185 Myanmar military officers in nuclear sciences over the past decade but only a "sprinkling" of scholars have pursued the positive uses of the energy source, a Myanmar academic said on Friday.
Myanmar's nuclear ambitions have been a subject of concern in recent years after allegations by defectors that the pariah regime is keen to develop nuclear weapons in cooperation with North Korea.
Myanmar's ruling junta, however, claims that its nuclear ambitions are purely medical in nature.
Maung Zarni, a research fellow at the London School of Economics and Political Science, pointed out that only a handful of the Myanmar graduates who have studied nuclear-related technologies in Moscow had medical backgrounds, raising questions about the regime's claims of pursuing nuclear energy for medicinal reasons.
"Between 400 to 600 graduates are sent to Russia every year and out of those graduates only a sprinkling of officers have medical backgrounds," he told a seminar at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University.
Zarni estimated that only five to 20 of the military graduates attending nuclear-related courses in Moscow since 2001 had medical backgrounds. He had compiled the list of 4,185 based on interviews with former graduates, he said.
"And if the nuclear programme is for medical purposes why isn't there any involvement by the Ministry of Health," Zarni noted.
He acknowledged that it was still difficult to prove whether Myanmar's military junta had acquired or developed nuclear weapons, but argued their intent to do so was pretty clear.
At this stage the junta might be more interested in using the threat of a potential nuclear arsenal as a "big stick" in diplomacy, he speculated.
"The fact that the US and other powers have not done anything substantive to rein in North Korea is because they have the bomb, so that's a role model for a lot of rogue states," Zarni said.
Myanmar has been under military rule since 1962.