N Korea ‘masking’ Burma weapons trade

North Korea has been using various “front companies, middlemen and other ruses” to sell nuclear and missile technology to so-called rogue states, including Burma, the UN has said.

The tactic is designed to circumvent sanctions implemented on the pariah state in 2009 that ban trade in weapons, according to a UN panel that has released a 47-page report outlining concerns about Pyongyang’s activities.

Other countries listed as beneficiaries of North Korea’s weapons market include Iran and Syria, both of which are also subject to tight UN sanctions.

The various “masking techniques” used to avoid export detection include mislabelling the contents of shipping containers, falsifying information about the origin and destination of goods and “use of multiple layers of intermediaries, shell companies, and financial institutions”. This includes the building of assembly factories in importing countries.

An investigation last year by the South Korea news agency Chosun Ilbo found that Pyongyang had illegally exported weapons to Burma via overland routes through China to avoid naval detection or interception. This followed reports that a North Korean ship, the Kang Nam 1, was being tracked by the US navy on suspicion that it was carrying weapons destined for Burma.

US intelligence agencies believe that Pyongyang has exported weaponry to Iran, Syria, Laos and Burma totalling $US800 million since 2000.

And fears have recently resurfaced about apparently warming relations between North Korea and Burma and the possibility that Pyongyang is now supplying nuclear technology to Naypyidaw.

Rumours about possible weapons exports from China and North Korea to Burma in mid-April prompted a warning from a senior US envoy Kurt Campbell that the US “maintains the right to take independent action” on Burma.

The efficacy of UN sanctions on North Korea that were implemented following its nuclear test in May 2009 is now being questioned; one UN diplomat told Reuters that “the details in the report are not entirely surprising”.

Australia-based North Korea expert Leonid Petrov told DVB that “no sanctions can be effective with a country like North Korea”.

“It’s a totalitarian state…and actually sanctions help such regimes to survive because they use it to mobilise their own population.”

The problem is compounded by the continued alliance with countries such as China and Russia, which both hold significant clout in the UN security council and provide an economic crutch for the North Korean regime.

“In economic terms, still China and Russia are strategic allies and they have bilateral agreements and can always bypass [restrictive measures],” Petrov said. “So unless China and Russia really join those sanctions in earnest then I don’t think it’s possible [for sanctions to be effective].

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