North Korea Leadership Watch

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DPRK Weapons Plane Intercepted in Bangkok

An Ilyushin-76 transport plane carrying rocket-propelled grenades, missiles, spare parts, four (4) Kazakh and one (1) Belarus passport holders, which had departed Pyongyang, was stopped at Don Mueang International Airport in Bangkok on Saturday.  The plane was bound for Colombo, Sri Lanka, then to unknown destinations, possibly in the Middle East or Eastern Europe.  The cargo is said by Thai authorities to have a total weight of 35 tons.  The Il-76 is registered either in the Republic of Georgia or Russia.  One of the men arrested said the flight departed Russia or east Eruope for Pyongyang, where its cargo was loaded.  Thai authorities, who were tipped off by US officials, are currently trying to determine whether the cargo violated UN resolutions against the DPRK’s missile and strategic weapons’ programs.

The IHT/NY Times features an interview with one of the members of the flight crew, although I am not eager to jump to conclusions about the man’s veracity.  Another problem with the IHT/NYT coverage of this is the sensationalist tone it has employed on this story–the DPRK has been shipping/smuggling/trafficking weapons for many years.  Yonhap has some commentary from unnamed ROK Foreign Ministry officials.

A note about recent national/cultural interactions with Thais and east Europeans, which may or may not be relevant.  A report from a provincial Thai newspaper last week of an investigation into North Korean nationals’ involvement in a marriage scheme with Thai women.  The report interviewed one woman who broke off her engagement to a North Korean and returned home, with the other women having been taken to the DPRK.  One of the women states in a telephone conversation with her family that she was performing manual labor, and that the other women were unaccounted for, either teaching or working as hostesses.

With regard to the old Sphere of Influence; it has been alleged that under the UN sanctions and also based on agreements with the Chinese, the DPRK has been running its revenue from weapons and narcotics through criminal syndicates in Russia and east Europe.  It is possible that the men apprehended in Bangkok are connected to one of these networks, and that the North Koreans have bought themselves the Platinum Plan for illicit traffic.

One thing is for certain: the octogenarians at the Second Economic Committee can not be happy.

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This article was written on 13 Dec 2009, and is filled under DPRK External Relations, Second Economic Committee.

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