Thailand to charge plane crew over 'seized N.Korean arms'

Sources said the "United States" had tipped the Thai authorities off about the 35 tonnes of arms that the plane held.

Thailand to charge plane crew over 'seized N.Korean arms'

Thailand will press charges against the crew of a plane forced to land in Bangkok and found to be carrying arms from North Korea, a government spokesman said on Sunday, adding it was unclear where the plane had been going.

Military and police sources, declining to be named, said the "United States" had tipped the Thai authorities off about the 35 tonnes of arms that the plane held.

They said the five crew members -- four from Kazakhstan and one from Belarus -- were saying little.

Government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn said they would be charged on Monday, but he would not elaborate on the charges.

"The Thai authorities acted on tips from intelligence agencies of many countries," he told Reuters, adding the crew had initially declared the cargo to be oil-drilling equipment.

He said the authorities believed the plane had initially planned to refuel in Sri Lanka and it was not clear why the crew had asked to make an emergency landing in Bangkok to refuel and check the wheel.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said Thailand had acted "in accordance with United Nations resolutions".

"What I understand is that the plane was to have refuelled at Sri Lanka. The goods are from North Korea. The people are from Kazhakstan and Belarus and the plane is from Georgia," he said on Thai television.

US tip

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.

Monthon Sutchukorn, a deputy spokesman for the Thai Air Force, told Reuters the plane was impounded at 3 p.m. (0800 GMT) on Friday.

"The air force took control of the plane in the evening of Dec. 11," he added. "We found a huge amount of weapons ... all of which was transferred to be kept at a safe place belonging to the air force."

The authorities have declined to give details about the arms.

A military source said the haul included rocket-propelled grenades, missiles. Experts will be taking a closer look on Tuesday.

The plane was an Ilyushin IL-76 aircraft, registered in Georgia.

A police source said the final destination could have been somewhere in South Asia or the Middle East, after a scheduled refuelling stop in Sri Lanka.
Military officials in Colombo said the consignment had not been destined for Sri Lanka.

"Why should Sri Lanka buy from North Korea when the same is available in China?" one official said.

The North's biggest arms sales come from ballistic missiles, with Iran and other Middle Eastern states being customers, according to U.S. government officials.




Reuters

Last Mod: 13 Aralık 2009, 12:06
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