Presidential spokesperson Ye Htut has countered allegations made in a May 9 article by Foreign Policy Magazine claiming that an ammunition plant in Pauk is more than just an ordinary defence equipment factory.

The article was written by Jeffrey Lewis, director of East Asia Non-proliferation Program, with the intention that the United States would further engage Myanmar as it moves toward a more open society and also end its military relationship with North Korea.

“The story of what happened near Pauk is an interesting one,” the article states. “In February, Unity Journal published an article based on interviews with people living near Pauk. They claimed that the site was unusual: It had very heavy security, and it had been visited by senior regime figures. The story received international attention following the detention of the Unity journalists and the confiscation of all copies of that edition of their magazine which contained images of the site. The government acknowledged that the facility is a standard ordnance factory of unspecified purpose.”

Based on satellite images purchased by Foreign Policy, the article claims to have located and analysed the facility. It goes on to say that its scale is surprising, and, that it doesn’t look like a standard ordnance factory.

“It is very difficult to identify a chemical weapon facility using only overhead imagery, but the scale of the facility and its location are certainly unlike standard ordnance factories seen elsewhere. It comprises five enormous warehouses, with more than 200,000 square metres of floor space,” Lewis states in the article.
Ye Htut, who is also deputy minister for information, was quick to refute the claims made by the article.
“They based their assumptions only on bird’s-eye-view images. Even if it was a real chemical weapons factory, the American intelligence capability would be able to detect it in the first place. Also the article is based on non-governmental satellite images. This facility is meant only for our defence measures,” said Ye Htut.

He continued, “The Official Secrets Act covers every defence weapons industry facilitated by government, regardless of it being a chemical weapons plant or not. [Furthermore] the president’s office did not direct that a case be filed against the Unity Five. In order to file a case in accordance with this Act, the president’s confirmation is necessary. The department submitted a proposal appealing to the president for permission to sue the Unity journalists, as they infringed the Official Secrets Act. We only proceeded after receiving the confirmation. To sum up, the case has proceeded for their trespass on a defence facility.”

Lewis further claimed that the allegations of chemical weapons production would be easy enough to address if Myanmar were simply to make good on its promise to accede to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). Myanmar signed the agreement in 1993 but has delayed bringing it (and its verification measures) into force for more than two decades.

The article asserts that Myanmar keeps making promises, but is short on action. For example, a spokesperson said that Myanmar continues making preparations to accede to the treaty, and the same spokesman repeated this promise in February in the wake of the allegations.

Local residents also stated that foreign workers at the factory were Chinese. The site also bears a number of startling resemblances to another Myanmar’s Directorate of Defence Industries (DDI) facility — this one near Minbu – and that the United States believes it is a North Korean-supplied factory that makes missiles of an unspecified type.

“The facility near Pauk is enormous and brand-new. The DDI is building a number of new industry sites, as well as modernising and expanding existing sites. The facility near Pauk is just the tip of the iceberg,” the article states.

Again, Ye Htut countered the claims, point by point.

“It is not surprising that the commander-in-chief visits the defence facility,” he said. “He even pays a visit to regiment camps and hospitals.”

“The Centre for Non-proliferation Studies (CNS)’s evidence is only the satellite photo of a factory warehouse and [they] question its enormous size. There are many defence industries in foreign countries larger than ours. This is only meant for defence weaponry. We cannot establish chemical arms that easy,” added Ye Htut.

He went on to suggest that Myanmar is currently in the process of “affirming” the CWC regulations after signing the deal but the affirmation process has to be approved in parliament.
“After we obtained affirmation from parliament, we have to change the local laws in conformity with that convention. For instance, when private industries import the chemical compounds which have two purposes i.e. medicinal and chemical weapons production, we have to check those compounds complying with the convention,” he added.

The No. 24 Defence Equipment Factory was established in 2008.

According to locals and factory insiders, covering 36,827 acres and sits on the thickly forested Pon Taung Pon Nyar region. Residents of nearby villages say all the routes to the factory are heavily guarded by checkpoints and some gates request national registration to be able to pass.

“There were five villages surrounding before. When the factory has been constructed, Lay Pin Ai village had to be displaced as it is in the vicinity of the facility. Since the beginning of the factory project, our paddy lands have been seized without any compensation. We know it as a defence equipment production factory as they say,” said local resident Tin Tin Kyi.

On January 23, 2014, the Unity Journal featured an investigative story exposing the existence of a ‘secret chemical factory in Pauk’ which was rephrased in the January 30 edition with a follow-up stating that No. 24 Defence Equipment Factory was not a chemical plant.

In the wake of these stories, the CEO of Unity Journal and four reporters were arrested and are currently facing charges of having leaked official secrets under the Official Secrets Act.

Lt-Colonel Kyaw Kyaw Oo, head of the admin department of the factory, filed a case against the Unity Journal on February 14 and they are still on trial and could face up to 14 years in prison.