Following the backlash from a report in a Japanese newspaper that suggested Naypyidaw might still have some military ties to North Korea, Mizzima interviewed Hmu Zaw, the director of the President’s Office.
Q: Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun reported this week that Japan intercepted material suitable for uranium enrichment on a North Korean ship bound for Burma. Your comment?
A: Japan seized the items aboard a cargo ship on August 22 and the issue has arisen from there. But it does not damage relations between Japan and Myanmar. At the recent ASEAN Summit the Burmese President met with the Japanese Prime Minister, and Japan officially announced that it will provide more aid to Myanmar.
According to the investigation, the materials that Japan seized were aluminum alloys, which can also be used in construction and other industrial businesses. The newspaper reported that the shipment included about 50 metal pipes and 15 high-specification aluminum alloy bars. But, the event took place back on August 22. Moreover, the countries involved: South Korea, Thailand and Japan, and other ‘interest groups’ aren’t worried.
After the incident, US President Obama visited Myanmar. And following the meeting between the Japanese Prime Minister and our President, Japan has agreed to provide more aid.
Now, you can review that report that was published in the Asahi Shimbun, I think.
Q: Please tell us about relations between North Korea and Burma.
A: On November 18, before Obama arrived in Myanmar, the President announced that Myanmar will sign an ‘additional protocol’ with the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency]. The issue was raised in Parliament and approved.
In 1992, Myanmar signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty and other similar treaties. And according to the ‘additional protocol’ of IAEA, if Myanmar was ‘suspected’, the IAEA could carry out an investigation. We have promised to abide by the United Nations Security Council’s Resolution 1874 [sanctions on North Korea; adopted in June 2009].
Moreover, the President’s attitude is that although Myanmar had previously planned to build a nuclear power plant, it did not have the necessary technology or enough money to carry out the plan, so Myanmar had to communicate with North Korea. The world misunderstood the situation, so the President has decided not to follow through on it.
So, I want to say that we have released statements to confirm this, and that Myanmar will abide by the resolution of the UN Security Council.
Q: South Korean experts say that the materials seized by Japan in August can be used to build short-range missiles. According to them, Burma has tried to develop short-range missiles in the event of border disputes with its neighbors. How do you respond to their claims?
A: Every country upgrades its defense industry. That is related to ‘national defense’. But as I said before, the materials can be used for construction projects, too. And as they said, the materials can also be used for producing barrels for mortars. But we have already explained this thoroughly. We will continue our good relations with Japan and South Korea.
Talking about the report published in the Asahi Shimbun, you can observe the good relationships [between Burma and the international community] in the period after the materials were seized on August 22.
Q: We’ve learnt that Thura Shwe Mann told Japan that Burma would pursue no new weapon purchases from North Korea, but that North Korea has yet to deliver some weapons previously ordered by Burma. When this transaction is completed, will that mean no further orders from North Korea?
A: We cannot know what U Shwe Mann said. I don’t know when all the orders will be completed. U Shwe Mann, himself, went to North Korea and signed the agreement, so we don’t know.
Q: What is your opinion on the information published in Asahi Shimbun which says Burma informally told the US that it built underground tunnels near Naypyitaw?
A: No comment. That is confidential. I don’t want to make any comment on this.
Q: US President Obama’s government has urged Burma to sever its military ties with North Korea. Much of the international community has said the same. So, will Burma cut its military ties with North Korea?
A: If you read the UN Security Council’s Resolution 1874, you will know the answer. We will abide by that resolution.
Q. Thank you for your time U Hmu Zaw. Do you have any other comments?
A: It is natural that some people think Myanmar is involved because it had a military relationship with North Korea in the past. However, now Myanmar has undergone a process of democratic reforms. Therefore, impressions about Myanmar have changed within the international community, and cooperation with certain foreign countries has improved.
The President has agreed to the IAEA’s ‘additional protocol’ and this country has already signed nuclear arms control treaties. Myanmar will fully obey Resolution 1874. Myanmar has informed the UN that it has given up its nuclear projects.
Under the former circumstances, the international community might treat Burma differently. Anyway, I would like to say that you can predict the future by observing Burma’s current open political system and stronger relationships with the international community.