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‘Seized NK Containers Had Chemical Weapons Items’

Posted October. 06, 2009 08:01,   


Four North Korean containers seized in the South Korean port of Busan last month had items related to chemical weapons, the Dong-A Ilbo has learned.

The National Intelligence Service and the Korea Coast Guard seized the containers shipped by North Korea on a Panama-registered freighter Sept. 22.

A government official in Seoul, however, said yesterday, “The items shipped on the freighter were related to the Australia Group.”

The official also denied that the items on the freighter were chemical weapons, saying, “No. They’re neither chemical weapons nor materials used in chemical weapons. They’re also not manufacturing facilities to produce chemical weapons.”

Established in 1984, the Australia Group is an informal forum of 33 countries including South Korea to prevent the production and spread of chemical weapons.

Speculation has grown that the items are probably clothing to protect against chemical weapons, but the South Korean government has not officially confirmed or denied this.

A government source in Seoul said, “The (South) Korea Coast Guard ordered the freighter, which left the port of Busan and sailed through waters near Geoje Island, to return and seized the containers.”

The 90,000-ton freighter left the Chinese port of Tianjin Sept. 19 and arrived in Busan two days later. It then left Busan Sept. 22 and returned to the port late at night on the same day.

The freighter left for Dalian, China, on the morning of Sept. 23.

South Korean intelligence and the foreign and unification ministries said they cannot confirm anything.

A high-ranking source at the presidential office of Cheong Wa Dae also said, “We cannot mention the issue since several sensitive problems are involved.”

North Korea gave no official response to the incident. Pyongyang had said it would consider Seoul’s participation in the Washington-led Proliferation Security Initiative as a provocation, but has shown no response since Seoul joined the initiative May 26.

The North has also not retaliated against the South’s participation in U.N. sanctions on the Stalinist country.

The Associated Press quoted the Dong-A report, saying that at the request of intelligence authorities, the (South) Korea Coast Guard seized containers shipped on a Panama freighter at Busan’s new port.

AFP also said, “Dong-A Ilbo newspaper said the search could be part of Seoul`s participation in a U.S.-led counter-proliferation campaign, or part of an attempt to enforce U.N. sanctions (Resolution 1874).”

The resolution includes financial sanctions designed to choke off revenue for Pyongyang’s weapons program and tougher inspections of cargo suspected of containing banned weapons-related items.

AFP also said Australian government officials confirmed that weapons, including rocket-propelled grenades, were found on an Australian-owned ship seized by the United Arab Emirates in August while the vessel was traveling from North Korea to Iran.

kyle@donga.com kchwang@donga.com