Bangkok: Myanmar is carrying out a secret atomic weapons programme that could "really speed up" if the army-ruled country is aided by North Korea, according to a top nuclear scientist.
The comments follow a June documentary by the Norwegian-based news group Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) that said Myanmar was trying to develop nuclear weapons, citing a senior army defector and years of "top secret material".
Robert Kelley, a former director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), inspected the files smuggled out of Myanmar by Sai Thein Win and said the evidence indicated "a clandestine nuclear programme" was underway.
"This is not a well-developed programme. I don`t think it`s going very well," he told the Foreign Correspondents` Club of Thailand late Tuesday.
"But if another country steps in and has all of the knowledge, the materials, and maybe the key to some of the things that are plaguing them, including bad management, this programme could really speed up."
Kelley said North Korea was "certainly the country I have in mind".
Myanmar, which is holding its first elections in two decades on November 7, has dismissed the reports of its nuclear intentions and brushed aside Western concerns about possible cooperation with North Korea.
The DVB documentary gathered thousands of photos and defector testimony, some regarding Myanmar`s network of secret underground bunkers and tunnels, which were allegedly built with the help of North Korean expertise.
The United States has expressed concern about military ties between the two pariah states, and said it was assessing the nuclear allegations against Myanmar, which would be "tremendously destabilising" to the region.
The Southeast Asian nation has also come under fire for the upcoming polls, which Western governments believe are a sham aimed at entrenching the rule of the army generals behind a civilian guise.
Kelley doubted their nuclear programme would succeed without outside help.
"I think it`s safe to say the people of Thailand are safe for the next few years because these people don`t know what they`re doing. I wouldn`t want to give them more than a few more years," he said.