North Korea helping Syria with chemical weapons, UN report says

Panel of experts finds that Pyongyang also sent banned military equipment to Myanmar

Children receive treatment this week after a suspected gas attack on al-Shifunieh village, in eastern Ghouta, Syria. Photograph: Mohammed Badra/EPA

Children receive treatment this week after a suspected gas attack on al-Shifunieh village, in eastern Ghouta, Syria. Photograph: Mohammed Badra/EPA

 

North Korea sent items used in ballistic missile and chemical weapons programmes to Syria along with missile technicians in violation of UN sanctions, and also sent banned ballistic missiles systems to Myanmar, UN experts have said.

The panel of experts monitoring sanctions against North Korea said its investigations into Pyongyang’s transfer of prohibited ballistic missile, conventional arms and dual use goods found more than 40 previously unreported shipments to Syria between 2012 and 2017.

It said an unnamed UN member state also reported evidence of Myanmar’s receipt of a range of conventional weapons from North Korea including multiple rocket launchers and surface-to-air missiles in addition to ballistic missile systems.

The Associated Press reported on February 2nd that according to the experts’ report, North Korea was flouting UN sanctions on oil and gas, engaging in prohibited ballistic missile co-operation with Syria and Myanmar, and illegally exporting commodities that brought in nearly 200 million dollars (€160 million) in just nine months last year.

The Associated Press obtained details from the more than 200-page report late on Tuesday, including the panel’s findings related to chemical weapons in Syria.

The US and other Western nations have accused Syria of using chemical weapons against rebel-controlled areas including recently in the Damascus suburb of eastern Ghouta, which President Bashar al-Assad’s government denies.

The report to the UN Security Council, which diplomats expect to be made public in mid-March, details “substantial new evidence” about North Korea’s dealings with Syria, dating back to 2008.

Chemical weapons

According to an unidentified member state, the North’s Ryonhap-2 Corporation was involved that year in a Syrian ballistic missile programme, the “manoeuvrable re-entry vehicle (Marv) Scud D (MD) project,” the report said.

More recently, it said the August 2016 visit by a technical delegation from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) – the country’s official name – “involved the transfer to Syria of special resistance valves and thermometers known for use in chemical weapons programmes”.

That information came from another member state which also reported that North Korean technicians “continue to operate at chemical weapons and missile facilities at Barzeh, Adra and Hama”, the report said.

It quoted Syria’s reply to the panel about the reports: “There are no DPRK technical companies in Syria and the only presence of some DPRK individuals are confined in the field of sports under private individual contracts for training athletics and gymnastics.”

The experts added that they had not yet received a reply for documents supporting this claim and a list of all North Koreans who had travelled to Syria.

The panel said it also examined shipments interdicted by member states that were sent by the Chinese company Cheng Tong Trading Company Ltd to Damascus-based companies in 2016 and 2017.

The experts said 13 shipping containers were filled with “acid resistant tiles” which would cover 5,000 square meters, enough for a large-scale industrial project.

One country’s analysis concluded that the tiles “were to be used for activities conducted at high temperatures,” the panel said, while another country said the material “can be used to build bricks for the interior walls of (a) chemical factory”.

The panel also said it continued its investigations into activities of Ryu Jin, a senior official in Syria for the Korea Mining Development Trading Corporation known as Komid, who is on the UN sanctions blacklist.

He listed his rank as a major general in a letter with an official proposal to Syrian major general Ali Salim of the Army Supply Bureau for “an air defence command and control system,” it said.

Komid is the DPRK’s primary arms dealer and main exporter of goods and equipment related to ballistic missiles and conventional weapons.

The report said among other activities Ryu Jin shipped ball-bearings and fibre-optic cables to Syria and earned 56,000 Euros and 48,000 Euros respectively, which was transferred through Tanchon Commercial Bank.

Myanmar

The panel said its investigations into several cases of previously unreported arms shipments and co-operation with front companies for those under UN sanctions between 2010 and 2017 “showed further evidence of arms embargo and other violations, including through the transfer of items with utility in ballistic missile and chemical weapons program[me].” For many years, the panel said the DPRK Corst Company acted on behalf of the Second Economic Committee, which is under sanctions, to ship goods to Syria for use in prohibited programmes.

The panel said it received documents in July 2017 showing Corst shipped banned goods to a researcher at Syria’s Scientific Studies Research Council, which the US says is the government agency responsible for developing and producing non-conventional weapons and the means to deliver them.

As for Myanmar, the panel said an unnamed member state reported that its Directorate of Defence Industries “maintains a sophisticated global procurement network” and “is seeking equipment from overseas suppliers for its DPRK-linked missile programme”.

The panel said it had previously concluded that Myanmar’s So Min Htike Company Ltd “was the consignee in the attempted transfer of prohibited nuclear-related items in 2012”.

While Myanmar told the panel in 2015 that it had only “normal diplomatic ties” with the DPRK, it reported on July 26th, 2017 that it expelled Kim Chol Nam, a DPRK diplomat “for acting on behalf or at the direction of Komid”.

And on January 24th the panel said: “Myanmar added that it was investigating the panel’s latest request for information.” – AP