VIENNA The U.N. nuclear watchdog will gain wider inspection powers in Myanmar under an agreement to be signed this week, in a further sign of the formerly army-ruled Asian state opening up to the outside world.
Myanmar will sign the so-called Additional Protocol - which allows unannounced inspections outside of declared nuclear sites - with the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency on Tuesday, the Vienna-based IAEA said.
The move will help to ease any lingering concern about Myanmar's nuclear ambitions.
Myanmar has denied allegations made by an exile group three years ago that it was trying to develop nuclear weapons, and most experts say its technological expertise is still far short of that level.
But in early 2011, diplomatic sources in Vienna said the IAEA had written to Myanmar seeking information about its activities, suggesting it wanted to send inspectors there.
Western countries have lifted or suspended sanctions imposed during nearly half a century of repressive military rule in Myanmar. But human rights activists and ethnic minority groups remain wary about the government of President Thein Sein, a former general now heading a quasi-civilian government.
In 2010, a U.N. report suggested that North Korea, which has left the nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty (NPT) and tested three nuclear devices, might have supplied Myanmar as well as Iran and Syria with banned atomic technology.
A Norwegian-based exile group said the same year that Myanmar had a secret program to develop the means to make nuclear weapons. Myanmar is a member of both the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the IAEA.
The IAEA said in Monday's statement that the Additional Protocol equipped the agency with "important additional measures that provide for broader access to information about the state's nuclear program, increased physical access by IAEA inspectors and improved administrative arrangements".
There are currently 121 states with such additional protocols in force.
(Reporting by Fredrik Dahl; Editing by Kevin Liffey)