Thailand extends detention of N.Korean cargo crew

A Thai court on Monday extended the detention of the crew of a seized cargo aircraft allegedly loaded with arms from North Korea.

Thailand extends detention of N.Korean cargo crew

A Thai court on Monday extended the detention of the crew of a seized cargo aircraft allegedly loaded with arms from North Korea with its unscheduled arrival in Bangkok.

Bangkok Criminal Court approved a police request to extend the detention of four crew members from Kazakhstan and one from Belarus by 12 days, giving authorities more time to scrutinise the weapons found on board.

"They have initially been charged with possession of heavy weapons and misstated details of the cargo," said government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn.

The plane apparently made an emergency landing on Friday en route to other stops in Asia and the Middle East.

An air force official involved in the inspection of the craft, who declined to be named, said on Saturday the Thai authorities had been asked by the United States to investigate the plane and its cargo.

"We were approached by the United States, seeking our cooperation to examine the suspected plane," the official told Reuters.

The crew have denied the charges, saying they thought the plane carried "oil-drilling equipment" and had no idea they were transporting arms, said police spokesman Pongsapat Pongcharoen.

"They thought it was a civilian freight flight, carrying oil-drilling pipes and other equipment for oil drilling. They have delivered such equipment a few times," said defence lawyer Somsak Saithong, adding that three of the crew were trained pilots.

Panitan said weapon experts would be sent to a military base in Thailand's north where the plane has been relocated to examine still-sealed crates.

"We want to keep the cargo away from the public until we know what else might be in it," Panitan said.

Pongsapat said information from the detained crew suggested the plane was initially scheduled to refuel in Sri Lanka after travelling from North Korea. It was unclear why the crew asked to make an emergency landing in Bangkok to refuel and check a wheel.

Panitan said the plane, an Ilyushin IL-76 aircraft registered in Georgia, was going to "a destination in the Middle East" to unload the weapons.

After that, according to the crew, it had planned to refuel in the United Arab Emirates and Azerbaijan before flying to its final destination in the Ukraine.

"But we are taking all of this with a pinch of salt. We will have to verify all the claims, including whether the passports are real," Panitan said.

North Korea was hit in June with fresh United Nations sanctionsover a nuclear test in May.



Reuters

Last Mod: 14 Aralık 2009, 12:14
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