Arms cargo

Thai authorities discovered more than 35 tons of arms on a cargo plane from North Korea when the plane landed at an airport near Bangkok for refueling Saturday, confirmation that Pyongyang continues to actively engage in arms dealing despite a U.N. ban against North Korean arms shipments.

Thai government said that the weapons included missiles, explosives, rocket-propelled grenades and tubes. Five crew members -- four from Kazakhstan and one from Belarus -- have been arrested, according to Thai media reports.

A Thai air force official involved in the inspection of the cargo plane said that the United States had asked the Thai authorities to inspect the plane and its cargo. He also said that the plane came from North Korea and was heading for a country in South Asia, probably Pakistan.

The U.N. Resolution 1874, imposed after the communist state's missile tests and its second nuclear test in May, includes a ban on arms exports from the North. The resolution also calls on countries to inspect and destroy weapons bound to or from North Korea.

The U.N. sanction is aimed at squeezing the isolated country, which depends largely on arms exports as its main source of foreign currency. It is estimated that arms exports bring in some $1 billion a year to the destitute country. Iran and other Middle Eastern countries are among the main clients for North Korean weapons, including ballistic missiles.

This latest attempt at arms exports shows the increasingly daring attempts by North Koreans to evade the U.N. sanctions. In August, United Arab Emirates authorities seized an Iran-bound ship carrying North Korean weapons. Earlier, a North Korean-registered ship suspected of carrying illegal arms shipment returned to North Korea after it was doggedly pursued by the U.S. navy.

The seizure of the weapons Thailand comes on the heels of last week's first bilateral meeting between Pyongyang and Washington since the inauguration of the Obama administration. Pyongyang insisted on bilateral meetings with the United States as a precondition for returning to the six-party talks aimed at denuclearizing North Korea. The United States, on the other hand, has maintained that any bilateral meeting would be aimed at bringing North Korea back to the six-party talks which the communist state unilaterally quit after the U.N. imposed sanctions.

While Bosworth's Pyongyang visit did not yield concrete results, Pyongyang said following the meeting that it would try to narrow differences in efforts to revive the six-party talks. Bosworth was positive about the meeting, saying it was a good start.

It is likely that the cargo plane left Pyongyang soon after Bosworth's visit to Pyongyang. The incident reveals that even as it was pursuing dialogue with Washington, North Korea was pursuing illegal arms exports. The incident also exposed North Korea's duplicity. On the other hand, the fact that the Thai authorities inspected the cargo on a tip-off from the United States shows Washington's resolve to continue with U.N. sanctions while engaging in dialogue with North Korea.

Perhaps the seizure of the arms cargo will drive home the message to the leadership in Pyongyang that it really does not have much choice but to return to the aid-for-denuclearization talks.


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