N.Korean Arms Cache ‘Bound for Sudan’

merchantofdeathA Georgian cargo plane carrying North Korean weapons that was intercepted in Thailand last Saturday was bound for Sudan, reports say. Christian LeMiere, the editor of Jane’s Intelligence Weekly, told AP on Tuesday that the aviation path of the plane suggested it was heading to Sudan, where they might have been handed over to armed groups in Somalia through Chad and Eritrea.

Siemon Wezeman of the Arms Transfers Project of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, agreed, telling AP that the “types of arms found in the aircraft — used to add firepower against planes and tanks in the arsenal of government forces — were typical of those used by insurgent movements, and raised suspicion they could be headed for an African rebel group.”

Meanwhile, the Bangkok Post on Tuesday reported that the U.S. had been monitoring the plane by satellite since five Europeans were spotted loading what appeared to be weapons on it in Pyongyang.

Circumstantial evidence suggests the involvement of international arms smugglers. Although the detained cargo plane belongs to Georgian airliner Air West, it was leased to a Ukrainian trade company named SP Trading on Nov. 5. AP said the plane was registered under three companies previously owned by the now-jailed Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, dubbed the “Merchant of Death.” Bout is notorious for his leading role in arms deals covering Russia, Ukraine, and Africa.

Thai authorities have mobilized over 100 weapons specialists to determine the types and destination of the North Korean weapons found in 145 boxes on the plane. A Thai court on Tuesday rejected a request for bail by the plane’s five crew.

englishnews@chosun.com / Dec. 16, 2009 12:07 KST

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