New Report: Burma’s Nuclear Activities Funded by Natural Gas Exports

Jul 7, 2010


By Sarah Bulley
EarthRights International, a Washington, D.C-based non-profit organization, released a report today estimating the amount of money that Burma receives from its natural gas exports and how that money is utilized by the regime to further its alleged proliferation goals.
Along with the localized human rights abuses within the pipeline corridor and its surrounding areas, the Yadana Project has played an enormously significant role in financially supporting the Burmese military regime – the same regime that is suspected by the UN and others of committing crimes against humanity, and that is now under international scrutiny for implementing an illegal, expensive, and clandestine nuclear weapons program while participating in illicit military trade with North Korea.
Burma is rich in natural resources, and the ruling junta uses this wealth to support their dictatorial hold on power. In 1992, Burma signed a contract with Total, Chevron and Thai Firm PPTEP to construct a 60-km long pipeline to transport natural gas from Burma to Thailand. Total, Chevron, PPTEP and the Burmese state-owned gas firm MOGE have been heavily invested in the construction, management and upkeep of this pipeline. Billions of dollars in revenue have flowed to the Burmese military from gas exports.
In 2009, EarthRights International calculated that from 2000-2008 the Yadana Project had generated US $7.58 billion in revenue […]EarthRights International exposed that portions of this revenue found their way into private bank accounts in two of Singapore’s largest offshore banks, the Overseas Chinese Banking Corporation (OCBC) and DBS group; these accounts could be used for many purposes, including the illicit acquisition of nuclear technology and ballistic weaponry.
The revenue, much of which may be kept outside of the country, enables the regime to engage in international hard-currency transactions to buy arms and other acquisitions.
The accounts in Singapore are not held in the names of any individuals currently on a sanctions watch list, making action against Burma difficult at this time.
While the single pipeline to Thailand brings the Burmese junta millions of dollars per year, plans currently underway to construct a new gas pipeline to China could increase that amount to an estimated US $30 billion over thirty years.
Burma’s military has been busy for several years constructing tunnels deep underground to keep the military’s activities secret and protect the leadership and army in case of an attack. In addition to the tunnel construction, satellite images and oral accounts of isolated complexes have raised suspicion that Burma may be working on a nuclear weapons program. The Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) released a report last month with strong evidence supporting such claims.
The United Nations and U.S. Department of State have also been wary of Burma’s nuclear goals. In May, an IAEA report was leaked alleging Burma’s purchase of nuclear technology from North Korea using “multiple intermediaries, shell companies, and overseas criminal networks to circumvent UN sanctions against Pyongyang.”
The United States has also been wary of Burma’s purported nuclear claims. State Department Spokesman Philip Crowley said last month that, “That is something that we watch very carefully. We are talking to Burma, reminding Burma about its international obligations under 1874 and other resolutions.” Also in June, Senator Jim Webb, one of the few U.S. officials ever granted permission to meet Than Shwe, cancelled a visit to Burma, citing evidence of clandestine nuclear activities. Burma is a signatory to the NPT and is also party to the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon Free Zone.
EarthRights International’s report brings to light the continuing human rights abuses suffered by Burmese citizens at the hands of the increasingly wealthy junta. Natural gas exports make the regime more secure in its decisions and fuel its military spending. While not the primary focus of the report, the discussion of the funding of Burma’s alleged nuclear program and its illicit trade with North Korea is worth reading. The report argues that the international community must act quickly to halt Burma’s proliferating activities, before they become more brazen and secure in their actions.