Thailand intercepts plane with weapons from North Korea

Thailand will charge detained crew members with crimes related to trafficking the 35-ton arms shipment in violation of sanctions slapped on North Korea for its missile and nuclear tests.

Thai authorities have intercepted a cache of grenades, rocket launchers, and other heavy arms from North Korea after the plane carrying them was forced to land in Bangkok for fuel. Acting on a tip from the United States and in line with United Nations sanctions, Thailand is now trying to piece together where the weapons were headed.

The five crew members, four with Kazakh passports and one from Belarus, have all been arrested but remained tight-lipped. Thailand will charge them with crimes related to trafficking the 35-ton arms shipment in violation of sanctions slapped on North Korea for its missile and nuclear tests in spring, reports Reuters. Those restrictions aim to choke off the North's weapons trade, one of the impoverished state's few sources of income.

The plane's flight schedule indicates it was originally bound for Colombo, Sri Lanka, reports The Bangkok Post. Sri Lanka's Daily Mirror says authorities there denied that, adding: "Some believe the crew of the detained aircraft may have indicated they were heading for Sri Lanka in order to conceal their actual destination." One Sri Lankan military official told Reuters, "Why should Sri Lanka buy from North Korea when the same is available in China?"

This is the first time a North Korean plane has been caught in the UN dragnet since its spring resolution imposing sanctions. India in August detained a North Korean vessel it deemed suspicious, but it turned out to be full of sugar. A month prior, a North Korean boat appeared to be headed for Burma (Myanmar) high-tailed it home after being trailed by the US Navy.

The Thai foreign ministry has announced it will report the arms seizure the the UN in 45 days, as required under the resolution, reports The Nation in Bangkok.

South Korean officials were paying close attention to the incident, reports Yonhap News Agency. "If the Thai government's announcement is true that North Korean weapons were on board, measures should be taken against the apparent violation of UN resolutions," it quoted an anonymous official at Seoul's Foreign Ministry as saying.

The incident follows US special envoy Stephen Bosworth's visit to the North last week, which aimed to draw Pyongyang back to six-party nuclear negotiations.

The Christian Science Monitor reports Bosworth appeared to have "gotten nowhere" in that trip, but hopes remain high for a breakthrough. The Seoul-based Daily NK on Sunday quoted South Korean analysts as saying the latest weapons incident would have only a minor effect on future bilateral talks.

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