North Korean weapons seized in Thailand

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Thai customs officials said today that they had intercepted a North Korean cargo plane loaded with 35 tons (31 Mg) of "heavy weapons". The Ilyushin Il-76 aircraft, registered in Belarus, was stopped at Bangkok's Don Muang airport, after a tip from the U.S. Government. The crew of four North Korean nationals (who have dual citizenship with Kazakhstan) and one Belarusian were arrested on site.

Thai PM Abhisit Vejjajiva said to The Times: "They committed two crimes: firstly they gave false information about their cargo, and secondly that cargo was found to be weapons". North Korea is banned from exporting or importing weapons under UN Security Council resolution 1874. There is no comment at this time from the North Korean government.

A similar Ilyushin Il-76 aircraft
Image: Jim Gordon.

A report from the Xinhua News Agency says that the cargo was en route to Ukraine, while another report from CNN says it was headed to Sri Lanka. The pilot, Belarusian Mikhail Petukhou, told Thai officials after six hours of interrogation that he had no knowledge of the cargo or its origins. He said that he and his crew members would "[only] provide other information in court."

The North Korea arms ban was first imposed in 2006, and strengthened in June, after North Korea tested ballistic missiles and nuclear devices. North Korea's annual profit from arms sales is estimated to be US$1 billion (€684m, Thai฿3.3t).