Myanmar Prepares to Ratify Chemical, Biological Weapons Treaties

myanmar-opcw-oct-2013.jpg A view of the headquarters of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in The Hague on Oct. 11, 2013.

Myanmar is making preparations to ratify the international treaties banning the use, production, and stockpiling  of chemical and biological weapons, a spokesman for President Thein Sein said Wednesday.

The spokesman, deputy information minister Ye Htut, told RFA's Myanmar Service that ratification documents were being prepared for parliament's approval.

Myanmar signed the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) in 1993 and the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) in 1972 but is among a few signatory countries which have not ratified the key treaties.

The head of the world's chemical watchdog said Wednesday that Myanmar was among three of six countries not covered by the CWC which are close to joining the agreement.

Speaking in Oslo the day after the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) formally received the Nobel Peace Prize, director general Ahmet Uzumcu said Myanmar together with Angola and South Sudan "are very close" to joining the pact, Agence France-Presse reported.

The Chemical Weapons Convention—which outlaws the production, stockpiling, and use of chemical weapons —entered into force in 1997 and has 190 member countries including Syria, the latest nation to join in October this year.

Ye Htut said the Myanmar government was also holding discussions with the OPCW on measures it should take after the ratification process, including staff training prospects.

Myanmar has come under pressure to ratify the international treaties to underline its seriousness about reforms.

Looming questions

Despite political and economic reforms enacted since Myanmar’s military junta gave up power more than two years ago, experts say there are still looming questions about possible chemical weapons stockpiles and allegations that the military used chemical weapons against ethnic rebel groups.

Reformist President Thein Sein’s government has denied the claims.

“Chemical weapons pose a grievous rights threat to mankind, so why is Myanmar one of the hold-out nations in the world that has still not ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention?” Human Rights Watch’s deputy Asia director Phil Robertson asked in a statement in October.

By not ratifying the treaty, Myanmar has not agreed to submit itself to international inspections or refrain from steps that would violate the convention.

In February, a technical assistance team from the OPCW visited the Myanmar capital Naypyidaw and met with lawmakers to discuss implementation of the treaty.

Myanmar’s government asserts the country has no chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons programs.

But ethnic armed rebel groups including the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) have accused the Myanmar military of using chemical weapons as recently as last year in their long-running war in the country’s borderlands.

In the 1980s and early 1990s, the U.S. government voiced suspicions of a possible chemical weapons program under the military junta in Myanmar, naming China and North Korea as possible suppliers. Since then the U.S. has been less vocal in its concern about the issue.

According to global security nonprofit organization the Nuclear Threat Initiative, there is currently “no evidence” to suggest Myanmar has a chemical weapons program.

In September, Myanmar signed with the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), an additional protocol on nuclear disarmament that gives weapons inspectors wider access to facilities that could be used to develop nuclear technology.

The signing came ten months after Thein Sein pledged to abide by the U.N.’s arms embargo on North Korea and to allow the IAEA full access to Myanmar weapons sites.

Reported by Khin Maung Soe for RFA's Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Soe. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.


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