YANGON—The Myanmar military has denied the United States’ claims that it may have “a stockpile” of chemical weapons, saying it has no ambitions to possess such arms.
US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Thomas DiNanno said during an annual meeting of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in The Hague, Netherlands, on Monday that Myanmar hasn’t complied with the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). He said the country has failed to declare its past chemical weapons programs or destroy its chemical weapons production facility, in breach of the convention it ratified in 2015.
He said the US believes Myanmar had a chemical weapons program in the 1980s that included a sulfur mustard gas development program and a chemical weapons production facility.
“The United States has serious concerns that a CW [chemical weapons] stockpile may remain at Myanmar’s historical CW facility,” he added.
DiNanno also said that beginning in February this year, the US held bilateral discussions with Myanmar to ensure that the civilian government and its military were aware of US concerns regarding its past chemical weapons program, urging Myanmar to declare it to the OPCW to remove the potential proliferation issue, and come into compliance with the CWC.
Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun, a Myanmar military spokesperson, told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday that the military hasn’t had any program relating to chemical weapons before or after the country’s ratification of the CWC.
“Not only chemical weapons, we have had no production, storage or testing of nuclear or biochemical weapons either,” he added.
When asked about the United States’ assessment of the country’s chemical weapons program in the 1980s, the spokesperson replied the military had no idea what it referred to.
However, Myanmar is no stranger to accusations of using such weapons in the past.
In 2013, police were accused of using phosphorus against protesters at a Chinese-run copper mine in the upper part of the country, causing severe burns. But Brig-Gen Zaw Min Tun rejected that and said it was just tear gas, of the type used internationally. “Burning can occur when it interacts with water,” he said.
In July 2014, five local journalists were sentenced to 10 years in prison with hard labor over an article accusing the military of producing chemical weapons. Later, their terms were reduced to three years. The president’s spokesperson U Ye Htut at the time rejected the accusation and said the facility was meant only for the country’s “defense measures.”
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