IAEA chief says looking into Myanmar nuclear report

VIENNA (Reuters) - The U.N. nuclear watchdog said on Monday it was looking into a report that military-ruled Myanmar was aiming to develop nuclear weapons.

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Yukiya Amano reaches for a glass of water before the start of a board of governors meeting at the U.N. headquarters in Vienna June 7, 2010. REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader

Yukiya Amano, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), also said that if necessary the Vienna-based body may ask for clarification from Myanmar.

Accounts of suspected nuclear plans surfaced last year, but Myanmar has never confirmed or denied any nuclear ambitions.

Last week, an investigation by an exiled anti-government group said Myanmar was seeking to develop a clandestine nuclear programme with the intent to produce an atomic bomb.

The five-year investigation by the Norway-based Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) concluded that Myanmar, formerly Burma, was a long way from producing a nuclear weapon but had gone to great lengths to acquire the technology and expertise to do so.

If true, it would be the first southeast Asian country with nuclear ambitions and alter the strategic landscape of a fast-growing region whose big countries -- from Indonesia to the Philippines and Thailand -- are closely allied with Washington.

“We have seen the related articles in the media and we are now assessing the information,” Amano told a news conference.

“And, if necessary, we will seek clarification from Myanmar,” the Japanese diplomat said, speaking on the first day of a meeting of the 35-nation board of the IAEA.

Myanmar is a member of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), a global anti-nuclear arms pact, and of the IAEA.

The DVB report cited a U.S. nuclear scientist assessing evidence provided by Sai Thein Win, a Burmese defence engineer trained in Russia in missile technology.

He said he had defected after working in factories built to develop weapons of mass destruction.

The report prompted a U.S. Senator, Jim Webb, to cancel a trip to Myanmar last Thursday, which he said would be “unwise and inappropriate” in light of the report.

Previous claims by defectors suggest Myanmar had enlisted the help of North Korea, with which it reportedly agreed a memorandum of understanding on military cooperation during a visit by a top general to Pyongyang last year.