Seizure of N. Korean Arms Cargo Shows Strength of Sanctions
Kurt Achin | Seoul 14 December 2009
Thailand will hold the crew of a cargo plane in prison while investigating their role in smuggling weapons from North Korea. Regional experts say the seizure reflects the firmness of international sanctions against the North.
A Thai court on Monday denied bail for the five crew members of the plane that landed Friday in Bangkok loaded with North Korean weapons.
Police spokesman Pongsapat Pongchareon says they will be held pending investigation. He says bail was denied was because of the quantity of the war weapons aboard the plane, and the fact the crew are foreigners. If they were released temporarily on bail, he says, they may escape, and there is also an issue of their own safety. Pongsapat says the crew will be incarcerated for 12 days.
Thai police say the four Kazakhstan and one Belarussian crew members say they did not know they were carrying 35 tons of armaments, including rocket-propelled grenades, surface-to-air missile launchers.
Thai officials say the plane was bound for "the Middle East." They say the men aboard claim they thought they were leaving Pyongyang with oil-drilling equipment.
South Korean officials say North Korea may once again have violated the will of the international community. Moon Tae-young is a Foreign Ministry spokesman in Seoul.
He says if it is confirmed the weapons were being transferred from North Korea, the South Korean government will view it as a violation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1874.
That resolution was imposed after North Korea conducted its second nuclear weapons test in May. It forbids North Korean weapons trafficking.
The seizure comes just days after U.S. envoy Stephen Bosworth held what he called "very useful" meetings in Pyongyang about ending the North's nuclear weapons programs. Baek Seung-joo, a researcher at the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses in Seoul, says the seizure will not necessarily halt U.S. diplomacy with Pyongyang.
He says this episode shows that even as the U.S. seeks dialogue, it will still work with international partners to support sanctions against the North.
Regional media reports say the Thai government received a tip about the weapons plane from Washington.
Dan Pinkston, Northeast Asia analyst in Seoul for the International Crisis Group, says North Korea is more concerned about the financial consequences of the seizure than the diplomatic ones.
"I don't think they care about the international community condemning them, but it will hit their revenue streams," said Pinkston.
He says international arms sales are a major source of hard currency the impoverished North badly needs.
"If the sanctions are tightening, it makes it more difficult to sell the arms, and, at least on the demand side, I think buyers are going to be a little more cautious about making these types of purchase," Pinkston added.
The Thai government is expected to submit a full report on the weapons interception to the United Nations Security Council within 45 days.
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