Myanmar, North Korea in missile
nexus By Bertil Lintner
BANGKOK - Military-run Myanmar's growing
weapons ambitions, including new revelations that
the reclusive regime is producing long-range
Scud-type missiles with North Korean assistance,
threaten to destabilize the region and make the
Southeast Asian country a new global weapons
exclusive information received by Asia Times
Online, one of two munitions factories located
near the small town of Minhla on the west bank of
the Ayeyarwady River, south of Minbu in Magway
Division, is involved in the production of
sophisticated Scud-type missiles. North Korean
experts are reportedly assisting Myanmar's own
military technicians in the top-secret project.
Known as ka pa sa, shorthand for
the Burmese-language initials
of the the Directorate of
Defense Industries, the country's weapons
factories have for decades produced basic
armaments for the military. But ka pa sa 2
and 10 near Minhla are now churning out more
advanced weapons, including Scud-type missiles,
than the country has to date. These are more
difficult to detect from the air because they are
located partly underground.
Myanmar would place its capabilities a significant
notch above its Southeast Asian neighbors, which
do not possess such long-range missiles. The
revelations could spark a regional arms race,
prompting neighboring countries such as Thailand
to develop or procure their own missile arsenal.
The existence of the two factories was
outlined in an August 27, 2004 United States
embassy cable from Yangon, which was made public
by WikiLeaks late last year. One of the US
Embassy's sources claimed that North Korean
workers were assembling surface-to-air missiles at
"a military site in Magway Division" where a
"concrete-reinforced underground facility" was
also under construction. The source told the
embassy that "he had seen a large barge carrying a
reinforced steel bar of a diameter that suggested
a project larger than a factory".
Times Online has discovered that the site referred
to in the embassy cable is ka pa sa 10,
situated near Konegyi village in Minhla township.
Construction of the site began in 1993, but has
only recently been completed. The site reportedly
covers 6,000 acres (2,428 hectares) and, according
to a source who used to work at the facility, the
aim is to produce surface-to-air,
surface-to-surface and air-to-air missiles.
The same source, who requested anonymity
for personal security reasons, claimed that the
North Koreans working at the site first entered
Myanmar discreetly by road from China. They were
met at the border and then brought to Minhla by
officers from Myanmar's Defense Production
Directorate, known as ka ka htone,
according to the source.
On the Myanmar
side, between 600 and 900 army technicians and
other military personnel are currently based at
ka pa sa 10. Initially Russian and Chinese
technicians also took part in the facility's
construction, but they appear to have since left
and been replaced with North Korean experts.
Ka pa sa 2 controls no less than
100,000 acres of land near Malun village, which is
also based in Minhla township. According to the
source, the somewhat older factory employs 900
engineers and other military personnel and
produces 60mm, 81mm and 120mm mortars and 105mm
The complex also
includes a huge firing range where heavy weapons,
including artillery and rockets, are tested.
According to the source, Singapore, as a small
island country which doesn't have enough space for
such testing, paid for the construction of the
firing range. Weapons are also brought from
Singapore and tested at the site.
games On October 4 last year, the
English-language weekly Myanmar Times reported
that Myanmar authorities had inaugurated on
September 19 a "25.4-mile section, or
approximately 40 kilometers, of railroad between
Minhla in Bago Region and Minbu in Magwe Region".
Construction of the new section, "which is part of
the ongoing Kyangin-Pakokku Railroad Project along
the western bank of the Ayeyarwady River", started
in April 2007, according to the same news report.
The infrastructure project's opening was
presided over by then prime minister, now
President Thein Sein, underscoring the apparent
importance of the short rail link. According to
the Myanmar Times, Thein Sein also stated that the
railroad would enable "the people to have easy
access to various regions of the nation".
The problem with the report is that Minhla
in Bago Region is located several miles to the
east of the Ayeyarwady, and nearly 200 miles or,
more than 300 kilometers, south of Minbu.
Deliberate or otherwise, the reports confused the
location of the two towns that share the same
name. A 40-kilometer railroad between "upper"
Minhla on the western bank - the only stretch of
railroad on that side of the river - and Minbu
could only serve one major purpose: to transport
heavy goods relevant to producing Scud-type
missiles or supplying a nuclear program to and
from Minbu, a major port on the Irrawaddy River.
So far, however, there are no reports to
suggest that Minhla's two ka pa sa
facilities are involved in Myanmar's nascent and
clandestine nuclear program. That research is
reportedly carried out at Myaing to the north of
Pakokku, which is also in Magway Division but far
from the Minhla facilities. The progress of
Myanmar's nuclear research is not known, but it is
believed to be in its infancy and widely regarded
as a pipedream that is unlikely to succeed in
developing nuclear weapons.
Korean involvement in ka pa sa 2 may be
cause for international concern - even for
Myanmar's traditional military partner, China.
In the 1990s, China supplied Myanmar with
between US$1 billion and $2 billion worth of
military hardware. The list of imported armaments
included 80 Type-69II medium-battle tanks, more
than 100 Type-63 light tanks, 250 Type-85 armored
personnel carriers, multiple launch rocket
systems, howitzers, anti-aircraft guns, HN-5
surface-to-air missiles, mortars, assault rifles,
recoilless guns, rocket-propelled grenade
launchers, JLP-50 and JLG-43 air defense radars,
heavy trucks, Chengdu F-7M Airguard jet fighters,
FT-7 and FT-6 jet trainers, A-5C ground attack
aircraft, SACY-8D transport aircraft, Hainan class
patrol boats, Houxin-class guided missile fast
attack craft, minesweepers and small gunboats. In
2000, China delivered 12 Karakoram-8
trainers/ground attack aircraft, which are
produced in a joint venture with Pakistan.
Since then, however, it appears that
Chinese deliveries of military equipment have
waned significantly. However, in November 2007,
immediately after the crackdown on a widespread
protest movement led by Buddhist monks, China
supplied Myanmar with howitzers and bomb-detection
According to a February 18,
2011, report by the US Congressional Research
Service (CRS), China followed that up with a
delivery of 450 military trucks in December 2007.
In January 2008, China sent another 500 military
trucks to Myanmar and in August that same year
supplied an additional 3,500 military trucks with
spare parts. In 2009, China delivered another five
large military trucks and in March last year sent
an additional 400 military use vehicles.
That bilateral cooperation was reaffirmed
last September when Myanmar junta leader General
Than Shwe traveled to China, ostensibly to update
the authorities in Beijing on his country's
upcoming elections, which were held in November.
During the visit, Than Shwe also inspected Huawei
Technologies, which CRS says has supplied
Myanmar's military with communications equipment.
At the end of last year, Myanmar's air force
agreed to buy 50 K-8 jet trainers from China; CRS
speculates that some of the assembly work for the
order will be done in Myanmar.
remains a major player in the still ongoing
expansion of Myanmar's military forces, it is no
longer Myanmar's main military partner. The regime
in Naypyidaw is increasingly turning to North
Korea for assistance in clandestine military
research and the production of more sophisticated
weapons, which seems to be at the top of the
junta's list of strategic priorities. As the newly
exposed North Korean-staffed facilities indicate,
Myanmar's generals are angling to diversify their
sources of hardware and know-how.
Bertil Lintner is a former
correspondent with the Far Eastern Economic Review
and the author of several books on Myanmar. He is
currently a writer with Asia Pacific Media
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