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(Yonhap Interview) Nuke-related materials seized in Japan not bound for Myanmar

All Headlines 09:00 March 27, 2013

SEOUL, March 27 (Yonhap) -- Nuclear-related materials confiscated in Japan from a ship carrying cargo from North Korea were not bound for Myanmar, the chief political advisor to President Thein Sein said Wednesday, denying media allegations of nuclear cooperation between the North and Myanmar.

The Japanese government said last week that it had seized aluminium alloy rods that could be used to make nuclear centrifuges from a Singapore-flagged ship, which was carrying cargo from North Korea. Media reports said the ship was bound for Myanmar.

Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga declined to confirm the reports, but said only that the cargo was headed for a "third country."

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.

North Korea conducted its third nuclear test last month, and concerns about the country's proliferation have persisted since it unveiled an industrial-scale uranium enrichment operation in late 2010.

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."

Many high-level government officials in South Korea and the U.S. have urged North Korea to follow in the footsteps of Myanmar, but Ko Ko Hlaing said a model of "Chinese modernization" is more appropriate to follow in order for North Korea to gradually open up to the outside world.

"In my opinion, North Korea would like to be modeled on the Chinese modernization," he said.

"What I have been seeing is the relaxations of economic activities of state-controlled industries. For instance, North Korea gives more power to managers to produce more goods," he said.

"I think that there may be a division of ideology among the elites, especially for hard-liners in the military. Some soft-liners would like to reform. So, the leader Kim Jong-un has to make a balance between the two groups," he said.

Ko Ko Hlaing said he was cautiously optimistic about the future of Myanmar's democratic transition.

"For the time being, the 'Myanmar Spring' seems to be in rather nice shape with a gentle breeze and sweet blossoms compared to the contemporary 'Arab Spring' movements. However the way forward would never be bedded with flowers," he said, hinting that they are cautious about their transition to democracy. "There will be numerous challenges and difficulties ahead." he said.

"No reform has been so simple -- so easy and flawless. But, it is true that Myanmar's political transition is on the right track. However, it needs more impetus and encouragement to proceed to reach the destination," he said.


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