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July 2, 2009 (DVB), North Korea is suspected to have illegally exported weapons to Burma via overland routes through China to avoid naval detection or interception, a South Korean newspaper said yesterday.
The news follows reports that the North Korean ship, the Kang Nam 1, being tracked by the US navy on suspicion that it is carrying weapons in breach of new UN sanctions on Pyongyang has turned around.
North Korea, like many countries, has traditionally used sea routes to carry exports to other parts of the world.
Following a series of sanctions on the regime that, since 2006, have increasingly targeted weapons exports, the government is alleged to have used overland routes that are harder to detect, the Chosun Ilbo newspaper said.
Using this method, Pyongyang has exported weaponry to Iran, Syria, Laos and Burma totaling $US800 million since 2000, the Chosun Ilbo quoting US intelligence agencies.
"It also exported weapons by building assembly factories in importing countries," the report said.
"To circumvent an entry ban on its ships in ports, North Korean chartered ships under the names of foreigners, falsified the country of origin, or did business through a third country. That is mostly how it was able to export to Iran, Syria, Burma and Laos."
According to North Korea expert Dr Leonid Petrov, this method has been used in the past to export sensitive material.
"Not every [North Korean] ship is government owned or government managed – North Korean crews sometimes operate under foreign companies," he said.
"There are plenty of cooperative companies, not really private and not really government-run, that operate on a market basis and commercial basis, so they can go wherever they want and pick up any cargo."
Burma reportedly refused to accept the Kang Nam ship, although it is unclear what its reason was.
Earlier this week US officials said the ship was still being tracked by US navy about 250 miles south of Hong Kong, heading north, although did not comment on possible destinations.
The new UN resolution on North Korea allows countries to request searches of North Korean suspected of carrying weapons or suspicious material, although the US is yet to board the Kang Nam.
"It's simply impossible to monitor the majority of routes, either inland or air, and probably only maritime cargo can be stopped and possibly searched but there is a high chance of provoking a skirmish or battle, so I don't think [the UN resolution] is going to work anyway," said Petrov.
Reporting by Francis Wade