South Africa Intercepts North Korean Arms Shipment (Updated)

tank3.jpgNot for the first time, North Korea is implicated in shipping weapons to one or more belligerents in the civil war in Congo, and not for the first time, North Korea is caught selling tank parts to a warring African nation in violation of a U.N. resolution. This time, however, the North Korean shipment has been seized in the course of what “Western diplomats” call a “clear-cut violation” of UNSCR 1874 (full text in my sidebars):

South Africa has told a UN Security Council committee it intercepted a North Korean weapons shipment bound for Central Africa, which diplomats said was a violation of a UN ban on arms sales by Pyongyang.

The seizure took place in November, when South African authorities received information that a ship headed for Congo Republic was carrying containers with suspicious cargo, according to a letter sent by South Africa to the Security Council’s North Korea sanctions committee. [Reuters]

Oh, and guess which member of the U.N. Security Council handled the cargo and didn’t alert anyone about any suspicious contents:

The letter, parts of which were seen by Reuters Monday, said a North Korean company was the shipping agent and the cargo was first loaded onto a ship in China, then transferred to a vessel owned by French shipping firm CMA CGM in Malaysia.

Diplomats said the French company alerted authorities to the fact it had suspicious cargo on board and was not believed to have done anything wrong.

If only the North Koreans had Charles Pascua‘s number in their rolodex, this whole misunderstanding could have been avoided:

The South Africans intercepted the vessel and seized the containers, which held tank parts. The letter, which the committee received last week, said the South Africans discovered “that the contents fell within the definition of conventional arms in that the contents consisted of components of a military tank T-54/T-55.”

The letter said the documentation for the containers described the cargo as “spare parts of bulldozer.” T-54 and T-55 tanks were designed and produced in the Soviet Union in the 1940s and 1950s but were later upgraded and made in other countries.

Neither the French company nor the countries involved had any immediate comment.

Fortunately, it is possible to enforce a U.N. Security Council resolution somewhat effectively, even without the full cooperation of all members of the Security Council.

The UN sanctions and the cut-off of handouts from South Korea have dealt a heavy blow to the North, which has an estimated gross domestic product of $17 billion, and may force it back to nuclear disarmament talks in the hopes of winning aid, analysts say.

Yeah, they’ll come back to talks some day, for the right payoff. But so what? They still won’t disarm. Just ask them.

Update: Additional details on the cargo and its interception from Kyodo News, via the Mainichi Shimbun.

Most of the shipment consisted of components for T54 and T55 tanks, made in the former Soviet Union, said the report, obtained by Kyodo News. In addition to gun-sights, seats, tracks, storage boxes and periscopes for the tanks, radios with Chinese markings were also discovered, as well as protective head gear and search lights.

North Korea apparently tried to hide the true nature of the shipment as it was described as “spare parts of a bulldozer” and the containers were lined with large quantities of rice in sacks. After seizing the goods in November, South African authorities secured the containers in a warehouse in Durban, where they remain pending the completion of the investigation.

According to the report, the goods, bound for Pointe Noire, the Republic of Congo, were first loaded onto a ship in Dalian, China, on Oct. 20. The cargo was then transferred to another ship, the Westerhever, which was chartered by a subsidiary of a French company, CMA CGM. The vessel left Port Klang, Malaysia, on Nov. 16. The ship was due to refuel at Durban harbor in late November, but because of fuel shortages was instructed to bunker at Walvis Bay. On Nov. 27 while on route to Walvis Bay the captain was ordered to return to Durban and discharge the two containers in question.

Walvis Bay is in Namibia, a former South African protectorate that became independent in 1990 — the same year I visited this town in Namibia — and is ruled by veterans of the leftist South West African Peoples’ Organization (SWAPO). As was the case with Ethiopia, senior North Korean officials have made state visits to Namibia and have cultivated ties with its government. It’s not hard to see why. Namibia is a major producer of such mineral products as diamonds and uranium.

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