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former IAEA Director-General

Illicit N. Korean Exports Reported
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Kelsey Davenport

North Korea may have sold proliferation-sensitive materials to Myanmar and Syria in violation of UN Security Council sanctions, news organizations reported in November.

UN Security Council resolutions from 2006 and 2009 prohibit Pyongyang from making weapons-related exports, including arms sales and transfers of nuclear and ballistic missile technology.

The Asahi Shimbun reported Nov. 24 that, on Aug. 22, Japan had seized a shipment of aluminum alloy bars that could be used in the manufacture of centrifuges or missiles. The shipment was destined for Myanmar, also known as Burma. Markings on the cargo led Japanese inspectors to conclude that the shipment originated in North Korea, although the voyage during which it was stopped originated in China.

In a Nov. 25 statement to The Irrawaddy, a Myanmar newspaper, a spokesman for Myanmar President Thein Sein denied knowledge of a deal with North Korea for the seized materials. The statement said that Myanmar would respect UN Security Council resolutions and had “no nuclear ambitions.”

Separately, South Korea testified Oct. 24 to a UN committee that oversees sanctions on North Korea that inspectors last May had confiscated from a ship en route to Syria 445 graphite cylinders that could be used for ballistic missiles, according to a Nov. 14 Reuters report citing unnamed diplomats. The diplomats also said that a North Korean trading company had arranged for the shipment of graphite, which was declared as lead piping, on a Chinese registered ship, according to the article.

At a Nov. 15 press briefing, South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman Cho Tai-young said the ministry “could not confirm” the reports of this incident.

A spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a Nov. 14 press briefing that it “noted the report” in the media about the ship being detained and the nature of the cargo. He said that China “opposes the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their launch vehicles” and “strictly abides” by relevant UN Security Council resolutions. China would “handle behavior that violates” the resolutions and its own laws regulating export behavior, he said.

The UN sanctions committee met Oct. 24 to discuss recommendations from an expert panel for improving implementation of sanctions against North Korea. The panel concluded in a June 14 report that North Korea continues “actively to defy” UN measures and has developed “elaborate techniques to evade” sanctions. (See ACT, July/August 2012.)

According to the Reuters article, the panel also indicated at its Oct. 24 meeting that it is continuing to investigate North Korea’s acquisition of transport erector launchers and the role that a Chinese company played in facilitating the acquisition.

During an April 15 parade celebrating the birth of North Korea’s founder, Kim Il Sung, Pyongyang unveiled what appeared to be road-mobile ballistic missiles mounted on transport erector launchers with eight axles. (Analysts have said some of the missiles may have been mock-ups.)The panel report concluded that North Korea had not previously demonstrated a capacity to build a vehicle with such “advanced features,” but did not indicate where North Korea may have acquired the vehicles. When the report was released, experts following North Korea’s missile program said they believed that the transport erector launchers originated in China.

According to the Reuters article, an official told the panel that a Chinese company sold six eight-axle vehicles to North Korea for logging. The panel report described the transport erector launchers from the parade as eight-axle vehicles.