The Sydney Morning Herald reports that Thai officials, acting on a tip from the US, boarded a North Korean cargo plane that supposedly carried oil-drilling equipment on its way to “a south Asia nation.” What did they find? Around thirty-five tons of weaponry, including missiles and explosives. Israel Matzav reports that Israeli news radio reported the destination of the weaponry as Hamas and Hezbollah:
Thirty-five tons of North Korean weapons, including missiles, rocket-propelled grenades and explosives, have been seized from a Russian transporter plane that stopped to refuel in Bangkok during an apparent arms run to Asia.
The huge cache, uncovered by Thai authorities on a tip-off from the US, was allegedly being shipped illegally to ”a south Asian country” to help North Korea beat United Nations sanctions on arms trading.
There was a suggestion yesterday from the Thai Prime Minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, that the arms may have been bound for terrorist organisations.
”We are not yet clear why they were transporting these weapons … security and intelligence services are continuing to investigate … It is not yet clear if this is terrorist activity,” he said.
Impoverished North Korea earns more than $US1 billion ($1.09 billion) a year selling weapons, but the UN banned it from moving any arms in or out of the country after it conducted a nuclear test in May.
Who else buys North Korean munitions, especially missiles and explosives? UN nations are supposed to abide by the sanctions regime placed on Pyongyang after its nuclear tests. The only entities that need resupply on missiles and explosives and which can’t purchase such materiel openly are terrorist organizations.
Thailand has arrested the men on the airplane, who insisted that the cargo was benign. None of the five are from North Korea. Instead, the crew was comprised of four Kazakhs and a Belarussian, who flew the plane empty from Russia to Pyongyang, which may create even more international intrigue on this story. They could wind up with life imprisonment for illegal munitions dealing, but it’s a lot more likely that the Thais and the US will use that threat to gain more intel on Kim Jong-il’s illegal arms dealing.
Al-Jazeera has a good report on the story:
If they’re intended for Hezbollah and Hamas, that’s bad enough. If the weapons were intended for smuggling into Pakistan, it will present a new problem for Barack Obama in dealing with Kim. Weapons going to the Taliban would have been used against American soldiers in the region, which would make North Korea technically a part of the Taliban’s war effort. Will Obama continue to offer normalized relations as a carrot if that turns out to be the case?