North Korean plane carrying smuggled arms seized in Thailand
Five held in Bangkok over 40-tonne cargo which included rocket launchers, grenades and missiles.
guardian.co.uk, Sunday 13 December 2009 17.36 GMT
A lethal cargo of rocket launchers, grenades and other weapons seized in Thailand at the weekend may be just a glimpse of what US and UN investigators say is a global North Korean illegal arms smuggling network used to finance its proscribed nuclear weapons programme.
Authorities in Bangkok said today it was unclear where the plane carrying the 35-tonnes of arms, an Ilyushin IL-76 registered in Georgia, was heading. But suspicion immediately fell on Iran, the destination of a previous illegal weapons shipment impounded in the United Arab Emirates in July. Panitan Wattanayagorn, a Thai government spokesman, said the plane had initially planned to refuel in Sri Lanka. For unknown reasons, the crew asked to make an emergency landing in Bangkok on Friday. Sri Lanka denied any knowledge of the arms shipment. There was also speculation in Bangkok that it was destined for Pakistan or Afghanistan.
Thai officials, who detained four crewmen from Kazakhstan and one from Belarus, said they acted on tip-offs from US and other unnamed intelligence agencies that the plane was carrying North Korean-made weapons in contravention of a UN security council ban on arms exports. The ban was strengthened in June, after North Korea's isolated regime test-fired ballistic missiles and detonated a nuclear bomb.
The cargo, declared in the plane's manifest as oil-drilling equipment, was said to include rocket-propelled grenades, missile and rocket launchers, missile tubes, surface-to-air missile launchers, spare parts and other heavy weapons.