London: Myanmar is working on a nuclear weapons programme, a media report said Monday quoting experts, after existence of the programme was exposed by leaked photographs.
Intelligence monitoring of the country’s arms purchases from North Korea has been intensified as a result, the telegraph.co.uk reported.
Satellite tracking and electronic surveillance in particular have been stepped up. Concerns over the regime’s attempts to develop a nuclear bomb prompted the US State Department to demand last week that the ruling junta disclose an inventory of its nuclear technology.
Secret documents and hundreds of photographs smuggled out of the country by a defector indicated that it was intent on developing nuclear weapons and long-range missiles.
Jane’s Intelligence Review published a separate batch of photographs showing similar activities in buildings and behind security fences near the capital, Naypyidaw.
Fears that Myanmar had joined a clandestine nuclear network linking North Korea, Iran, Pakistan and Syria have been growing for some time, but there has not been hard evidence until now.
Sai Thein Win, the defector, is an army major who trained as a defence engineer and missile expert.
He said he had access to two secret nuclear facilities, including a "nuclear battalion" north of Mandalay, "charged with building up a nuclear weapons capability".
Robert Kelley, an American former senior weapons inspector with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said the evidence was the most compelling yet.
The photographs, which were passed to the Democratic Voice of Burma, part of the Myanmarese opposition, showed components built with German machine tools imported through Singapore, which Kelley believed indicated "nefarious purposes".
They included a fluidised bed reactor which is used to turn a powdered form of uranium into a gas which can then be enriched to weapons grade.
"They are either trying to make reactor fuel which they could buy for nothing from another country, or they are trying to make a weapon clandestinely," said Kelley.
"There is just not much point doing that unless it is for a bomb."
Intelligence agencies are seeking to provide the IAEA with proof of a clandestine programme in the hope of a formal inquiry.
Regular shipments of rocket platforms and missile technology between North Korea and Myanmar, as well as other clandestine links, are under scrutiny.
"There are strong suspicions over the contents of shipments, including a delivery of rockets within the last month," said one international nuclear expert.
Myanmar has made clear its nuclear ambitions by agreeing terms with Russia for the sale of a light-water research reactor.
But the deal is on hold after the generals refused to update its "small quantities protocol" with the IAEA, which exempts it from regular inspections.
The Myanmarese government has dismissed the latest claims as "accusations based solely on the fabrications of deserters, fugitives and exiles".
Kelley, a veteran of inspections in Libya, Iraq and South Africa, said the machines photographed by Win were all prototypes.
"The quality of workmanship is extremely poor and their expertise is poor. I am not saying that this is a nuclear weapons programme that is about to scare us tomorrow," he said.
"What I am saying is the intent to build nuclear weapons is much more clear now." Myanmar has signed a memorandum of understanding with North Korea to build Scud missiles, a conventional medium-range weapon.
North Korea has also offered assistance with underground facilities and to develop missiles with a range of 1,860 miles (about 2,993 km). The US navy recently followed a North Korean freighter heading towards Myanmar with unknown cargo. The ship turned around and returned home.