US Senator Writes to Thein Sein over Seized Cargo

By Matthew Pennington 30 November 2012

WASHINGTON—A US senator is asking Burmese President Thein Sein for answers over the reported seizure of a ship’s cargo bound for Burma with potential nuclear uses.

Japan’s Asahi Shimbun newspaper reported North Korea tried to ship materials suitable for uranium enrichment or missile development to Burma via China. It said Japanese authorities seized metal pipes and high-specification aluminum alloy at US request when the ship docked in Tokyo in August.

Republican Sen. Richard Lugar, a leading voice in Congress on nonproliferation, wrote on Tuesday to Thein Sein, urging him to disclose the intended recipient of the materials and their planned use. The Associated Press obtained a copy of the letter on Thursday.

The reported seizure heightens concern over whether Burma is making good on promises to sever military ties with North Korea, believed to have assisted Burma in ballistic missile technology. Burma denies having sought nuclear assistance.

Lugar commended Thein Sein for recently agreeing to sign an international agreement that would allow greater UN scrutiny of any nuclear activities. Lugar said the reported Japanese seizure also provided an opportunity for the Burmese government to demonstrate transparency.

“Peace and stability within Asean [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] are potentially impacted by the intended purpose of the ship’s cargo,” Lugar wrote. Burma is due to take the Asean chair in 2014.

Thein Sein has ushered in democratic reforms after decades of direct military rule, helping end the nation’s international isolation. Earlier this month, Barack Obama became the first US president to visit the country, officially known as Myanmar.