VIENNA (Reuters) - Myanmar told the U.N. nuclear watchdog on Thursday that allegations it was trying to develop atomic bombs were unfounded and that its nuclear activities had solely peaceful ends.
A Norwegian-based exile group said in June that Myanmar had a secret programme dedicated to acquiring nuclear weapons capability, following up on similar allegations by defectors from the reclusive, military-ruled country.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said at the time it was looking into the report. Myanmar is a member of both the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the Vienna-based U.N. agency, now holding its annual 151-nation assembly.
“There have been unfounded allegations reported by international media...that Myanmar is attempting to develop a nuclear weapon programme,” the head of the country’s delegation, U Tin Win, said in a speech to the IAEA General Conference.
“We would like to reiterate that the applications of nuclear science and technology in Myanmar are only for peaceful developmental purposes and Myanmar will never engage in activities related to the production and proliferation of nuclear weapons,” the Myanmar chief delegate said.
In June, an exiled anti-government group said it had carried out an investigation indicating that Myanmar’s military junta is pursuing a clandestine nuclear weapons programme.
The five-year inquiry 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 arms aspirations 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.
The DVB report cited a U.S. nuclear scientist assessing evidence provided by Sai Thein Win, a Burmese defence engineer.
He said he had defected after working in factories built to develop weapons of mass destruction.
Last year, Washington offered Myanmar a fresh start towards improving long-strained relations. But U.S. officials have been disappointed by the junta’s refusal to budge on key sticking points involving democratic reforms, as well as growing disquiet over its nuclear stance.
Last October, Myanmar’s foreign minister told his Japanese counterpart that his country was seeking Russian nuclear expertise, but only for civilian atomic energy for its people.
The isolated, impoverished country has been under Western sanctions for two decades and analysts say a nuclearised Myanmar could trigger an arms race in the region.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said at a security forum in Thailand last year she was concerned about the possible transfer of nuclear technology to Myanmar from North Korea, which has left the NPT and tested two nuclear devices.
(Reporting by Fredrik Dahl; Editing by Mark Heinrich)
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