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UN diplomats: North Korean military hardware seized en route to Syria

Pyongyang accused of violating UN sanctions to export missile technology to Assad.

A North Korean consignment of hardware usable in missile development discovered in May was bound for Syria, UN Security Council diplomats told Reuters on Tuesday.

If confirmed, the shipment would be a direct violation of UN arms trading sanctions levelled against Pyongyang after successive nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009.

The consignment of 455 graphite cylinders – declared as lead piping – was seized by South Korean authorities who discovered the cargo aboard a Chinese ship anchored in the South Korean port of Busan.

The allegations – which were outlined in a classified UN report – held that the materiel could have been destined for the Bashar al-Assad regime for use in Syria’s missile programme.

An anonymous envoy privy to the report told Reuters:

It appears the cylinders were intended for Syria’s missile program.

Unlike North Korea, there is currently no UN arms embargo against Damascus, despite the EU and US trading sanctions imposed upon the Assad regime. 

Syria receives the bulk of its imported armoury from Russia and Iran.

According to AFP, the ship carrying to the cargo – the Xin Yan Tai – is registered to a Shanghai shipping company, which implicates China.  

However, a diplomat told Reuters that the ship's crew were likely to have been unaware of its exact contents of the consignment.

Meanwhile, Beijing has agreed to join South Korean authorities in investigating the circumstances surrounding the contraband. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman told Reuters:

“China will handle behaviour that violates relevant UN Security Council resolutions and China’s laws and regulations according to the law.”

In a separate issue, the classified report – compiled by a panel of Security Council members – included confirmation from the Ukranian authorities of the arrests of two alleged North Korean arms agents. The men were arrested on accusation of attempting to steal ballistic missile technology from the former-Soviet state.

Alex Ward is a London-based freelance journalist who has previously worked for the Times & the Press Association. Twitter: @alexward3000