UPDATE 4 (2013-3-27): Myanmar leader denies the materials were bound for his country. According to Yonhap:
Ko Ko Hlaing, chief political advisor to Myanmar President Thein Sein, explicitly denied the allegations, reaffirming his government has no intention of building nuclear weapons.
“We have no great interest to broker such items like aluminium alloy rods,” Ko Ko Hlaing told Yonhap News Agency in an interview in Seoul on the sidelines of a forum on Myanmar’s reform and its implications on North Korea.
“We understand that the result of clandestine arms trafficking is quite treacherous,” he said. “So the reported destination may be elsewhere and the real destination will be in another position. So we can confirm that the real destination is not Myanmar.”
Mynamar had been suspected of pursuing nuclear cooperation with North Korea during decades of its military junta rule that ended in 2011.
Ko Ko Hlaing, a former army officer, said Myanmar has no interest in expanding military ties with other nations, including North Korea.
“With the new government, we have opened to the international communities and also we have achieved a very encouraging peace process,” he said.
“So, we are trying to reduce our defense expenditure and focus our resources on economic and social development rather than army and military development,” he said. “There is no potential to expand military cooperation with North Korea or any other countries.”
UPDATE 3 (2013-3-19): The Japan Times press follows up on the aluminum rods:
Japan has seized aluminium alloy rods that can be used to make nuclear centrifuges from a Singapore-flagged ship found to be carrying cargo from North Korea, the government said Monday.
The five rods were discovered on the ship during its call at Tokyo port last August and were confirmed to be aluminium alloy through tests conducted over the past six months, said Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga.
“The aluminium alloy is extremely strong and can be used in centrifuges, which are products related to nuclear development,” Suga said at a regular news briefing.
The rods were being stored at a private warehouse and the government on Monday ordered the firm to hand them over.
The items are the first to be confiscated under a special law passed in 2010 that allows Tokyo to inspect North Korea-related ships suspected of carrying materials that can be used in nuclear and missile programs.
The ship was reportedly on its way to Myanmar when it arrived in Tokyo via the Chinese port of Dalian. Suga confirmed the ship arrived via Dalian but said its cargo was bound for a “third country.”
UPDATE 2 (2012-11-26): Sen. Lugar has written a letter to the Burmese government regarding the shipment. Read more here.
UPDATE 1 (2012-11-26): More information at the Wall Street Journal.
ORIGINAL POST (2012-11-26): According to the Choson Ilbo:
The Japanese government confiscated what appeared to be North Korean aluminum alloy bars from a Singaporean cargo ship at the end of August, the Asahi Shimbun reported Saturday. They were apparently bound for Burma and could have been used in centrifuges for uranium enrichment.
The Wan Hai 313 belonging to a Taiwanese shipping company docked in Tokyo Port. The paper said authorities confiscated 50 metal pipes and 15 high-specification aluminum alloy bars marked “DPRK” for North Korea, “at least some of them offering the high strength needed in centrifuges for a nuclear weapons program.”
Prior to U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to Burma on Nov. 19, the Burmese government pledged to sever military ties with North Korea and open up for nuclear inspection. North Korea makes hundreds of millions of dollars a year by exporting armaments.
The cargo was initially on a different ship in Dalian, China on July 27 and moved to the Wan Hai 313 in Shekou, China on Aug. 9. It was to reach Burma via Malaysia on Aug 15, but the ship entered Tokyo Port on Aug. 22 at the request of the U.S. government.
The aluminum alloy bars were exported by a company based in Dalian, which said it did so at the request of another company. The newspaper wrote, “Authorities concluded that the shipment originated in North Korea because the bars were found to be inscribed ‘DPRK,’ although investigators were unable to confirm the origin from cargo documents or from the ship’s crew, the sources said.”
Read the full story here:
N.Korean Aluminum Shipment to Burma Foiled