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U.N. Probing Suspected North Korean Weapons Dealing to Myanmar, Syria

North Korean troops march in a military parade last month in Pyongyang. North Korea might be pursuing illicit arms trade with Syria and Myanmar, according to a new analysis by a U.N. Security Council panel (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder). North Korean troops march in a military parade last month in Pyongyang. North Korea might be pursuing illicit arms trade with Syria and Myanmar, according to a new analysis by a U.N. Security Council panel (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder).

A group of United Nations experts on economic penalties targeting North Korea has reason to suspect the regime is conducting illegal weapon dealings with Myanmar and Syria, Reuters reported on Thursday (see GSN, May 17).

"The D.P.R.K. continues actively to defy the measures in the (U.N. sanctions) resolutions," the experts in a classified report viewed by Reuters.

The report this week was provided to the U.N. Security Council committee with oversight on North Korean sanctions.

"Member states did not report to the committee any violations involving transfer of nuclear, other (weapons of mass destruction)-related or ballistic missile items. But they did report several other violations including illicit sales of arms and related materiel and luxury goods," the report states.

The Security Council imposed harsh sanctions on the North following the nation's 2006 and 2009 nuclear tests. The measures prohibit  Pyongyang from engaging in any weapons dealings with the international community and also are intended to curb its access to the luxury goods market.

Council member China, as it has done in the past, might block release of the report on its longtime ally, sources told Reuters. The latest report cites China as a midshipment point for illegal North Korean arms (see GSN, May 18, 2011).

"Although the (sanctions) have not caused the D.P.R.K. to halt its banned activities, they appear to have slowed them and made illicit transactions significantly more difficult and expensive," the experts concluded.

In one instance, North Korea is believed to have illegally attempted to export weapon materials to Syria. Last month, France informed the sanctions committee that in November 2010 authorities there searched a ship and confiscated illegal cargo that was sourced in North Korea and on its way to Syria.

"France's inspection of the cargo revealed that it contained brass discs and copper rods used to manufacture artillery munitions (pellets and rods for crimping cartridges and driving bands) and aluminum alloy tubes usable for making rockets," the experts said.

On a separate occasion in 2007, liquid fuel that can be used in Scud missiles and other ballistic missile components was found to be destined for Syria. "This shipment originated in the D.P.R.K., was trans-shipped in Dalian (China), and Port Kelang (Malaysia), and transited through other ports. It was en route to Latakia, Syria," the experts said.

The expert report said it could not decisively show that Pyongyang had maintained its illegal ballistic missile work with Syria, Iran and other nations but "that it would be consistent with reports of the D.P.R.K.'s long history of missile cooperation with these countries and with the panel's observations."

Myanmar in the past also come under suspicion for illegal weapon dealings with the North. The head of the Southeast Asian nation's parliament, Thura Shwe Mann, recently revealed that in 2008 he inked a document with visiting North Korean officials.

"It was not on nuclear cooperation as is being alleged," Shwe Mann was quoted in the expert report to have said. "We studied their air defense system, weapons factories, aircraft and ships. Their armed forces are quite strong, so we just agreed to cooperate with them if necessary."

The U.N. experts, though, said they were worried that the memorandum of understanding  was a breach of Security Council rules.

The North is broadly perceived to be preparing for a third nuclear test; experts think there is a good chance that such an event would for the first time involve a device powered by highly enriched uranium. Pyongyang declared a uranium enrichment program for the first time in 2010 but international inspectors have not been allowed into the country to confirm the scope of the operation.

The panel of experts said it saw no proof of efforts by Pyongyang to purchase abroad prohibited goods such as reinforced aluminum tubes and maraging steel, which would be required were the North' enlarging its uranium enrichment program. "Since May 2011, no attempts by the D.P.R.K. to import these have been reported to the committee or brought to the attention of the panel," the experts said. "It remains unclear whether this is because the D.P.R.K. has succeeded in doing so undetected, or stockpiled these items before sanctions were introduced, or is not after all trying to procure them."

The experts concluded that "overall implementation [by U.N. member states] of the sanctions leaves much to be desired" (Charbonneau/Nichols, Reuters, May 17).

The head of the Security Council's sanctions panel for North Korea informed journalists on Thursday that three alleged violations would be investigated, Kyodo News reported.

"We are concerned with violations of the relevant resolution and we are concerned about any eventual future violations of the pertinent resolutions and launching of the satellite was a violation of the resolution," Portuguese Ambassador Jose Filipe Moraes Cabral said, referring to North Korea's unsuccessful April effort to fire a long-range rocket into space.

The Security Council condemned the rocket launch as illegal under council rules that forbid Pyongyang  from using ballistic missile technology and punished Pyongyang by adding three new North Korean companies to the sanctions list (see GSN, May 2; Kyodo News/Mainichi Daily News, May 17).

Leaders from the Group of Eight leading industrialized nations are slated to discuss North Korea when they meet at Camp David on Friday, the Yonhap News Agency reported.

"We expect that they will -- the leaders will discuss North Korea," as well as Myanmar, Iran, and Syria, Obama administration national security adviser Tom Donilon said to reporters (Lee Chi-dong, Yonhap News Agency, May 17).

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Thursday announced that special envoy for Myanmar Derek Mitchell had been chosen by the Obama administration to be elevated to the post of ambassador. The United States has not had an ambassador in the Southeast Asian country for more than two decades, according to a State Department release.

Clinton also said the U.S. government was taking steps to boost U.S. investment in Myanmar. 

Appearing before the media with her counterpart from Myanmar, Wunna Maung Lwin, Clinton said the two had "discussed our concerns about North Korea.  I am encouraged by reports that President Thein Sein has stated he will end the military relationship with North Korea, and the [foreign] minister assured me that they will fully comply with international obligations on nonproliferation" (U.S. State Department release I, May 17).

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