Home » News

Thai police seize North Korean aircraft carrying 40 tons of heavy weapons

[Times Online UK, Sunday, 13 December 2009 16:45 No Comment]

missilecrew1_659195a The aircraft was Russian, registered in Georgia. Its crew were from Kazakhstan and Belorussia. It was about to fly on to a refuelling stop in Sri Lanka when it was seized by police in Thailand – and found to be carrying 40 tonnes of heavy weapons from Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea.

Thai police are now investigating what appears to be the biggest bust so far in the international arms embargo against North Korea – an arsenal of missiles, rockets and grenades bound for an unknown destination. The seizure of the weapons, carried out after a tip-off by the US Government, shines a light on the murky arms trade which is believed to provide a major source of income to the North Korean dictatorship.

The Ilyushin-76 cargo plane was cordoned off on the tarmac at Bangkok’s Don Muang airport, where it had stopped for refuelling on Friday. Its crew of five were arrested, after the cargo which they described as “oil drilling equipment” was found to consist of heavy weaponry.

“They committed two crimes: firstly they gave false information about their cargo, and secondly that cargo was found to be weapons,” the Prime Minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, said today. “We received the tip-off from intelligence reports that said this plane was suspicious. When the plane refuelled, we searched it and found the weapons.

“We are not yet clear why they were transporting these weapons, we only know they were due to refuel in Sri Lanka. Security and intelligence services are continuing to investigate. It is not yet clear if this is terrorist activity.”

North Korea is banned form exporting any arms except light weapons, under UN Resolution 1874, which was passed in June after international outrage provoked by Pyongyang’s testing of an intercontinental rocket and a nuclear warhead. The same resolution mandates member states to monitor and intercept sanctions-busting shipments – although, in practical terms, this is a challenge.

International maritime law makes it difficult to stop shipping at will in international waters.- but most aircraft, especiially when laden with heavy cargo, have to stop to refuel between North Korea and its principal arms customers in the Middle East.

In 2002 Spanish marines boarded a North Korean ship in the Arabian Sea found to be transporting Scud missiles to Yemen. To the embarrassment of the US, which had provided the tip-off, the ship was sent on its way when it became clear that the shipment was perfectly legal under international law.

The June resolution closes off this loophole. It calls on member states to inspect and destroy all banned cargo to and from North Korea on the high seas, at seaports and airports, if they have “reasonable grounds” to suspect a violation of sanctions.

Since the collapse of international communism deprived it of its Cold War sponsors, many of North Korea’s traditional industries, such as mining, chemicals and textiles, have crumbled to ruins. It has, though, maintained a supply of foreign exchange through the sale of arms, principally missile parts. Over the years, North Korea is reported to have done business with the armed forces of Egypt, Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Pakistan and Vietnam.

[Full Coverage]

(For updates you can share with your friends, follow TNN on Facebook, Twitter and Google+)

Comments are closed.