Seized North Korean weapons likely destined for Iran: source

Wed Dec 16, 2009 7:12am EST
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By Ambika Ahuja

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Weapons seized in Thailand from an impounded plane traveling from North Korea were likely destined for Iran, said a high-ranking Thai government security official on a team investigating the arms.

"Some experts believe the weapons may be going to Iran, which has bought arms from North Korea in the past," said the official, quoting Thai government military experts who also took part in an investigation of the weapons.

Speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media, he said the Thai investigating team considered Iran a likely destination because of the type of weaponry, including unassembled Taepodong-2 missile parts.

Security analysts have said North Korea's long-range Taepodong-2 is a product of joint efforts with Tehran, coinciding with Iran's development of the Shehab-5 and 6 missiles.

"Some of the components found are believed to be parts of unassembled Taepodong-2 missiles," the official said.

U.S. lawmakers have expressed concern about North Korea's close missile cooperation with Iran, which Washington suspects is seeking to build nuclear weapons. The relationship dates to the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s when Pyongyang shipped Scud missiles.

The components were discovered among 35 tonnes of weapons sealed in 145 crates of cargo seized by Thai authorities when the plane landed in Bangkok on Friday to refuel. The buyer and destination of the weapons have been shrouded in mystery.

A Thai court on Monday extended the detention of the five-man crew -- four from Kazakhstan and one from Belarus -- by 12 days to give authorities more time to investigate.   Continued...

<p>Police escort cargo plane captain Ilyas Issakov (front) and Alexandr Zrydnev, both from Kazakhstan, at The Criminal Court in Bangkok December 14, 2009. Thai authorities seized a plane carrying arms from North Korea after it landed in Bangkok and are expected to charge its crew, but the final destination of the cargo remained unclear on Monday. REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom</p>