Wednesday, March 10, 2010

North Korean defector blows whistle on illicit arms trade

Curbing North Korea's illicit arms trade is difficult since the renegade country launders containers carrying weapons three or four times, a North Korean defector told the Chosun Ilbo.

The defector revealed that a factory in Jagang Province, which is believed to produce tractors, is the center of the communist country's weapons production, including chemical warheads.

The defector alleges that five departments of the North Korean government are involved in arms exports: the military arms production wing of the Workers' Party, the Second Academy of Natural Sciences, the Surveillance Division of the People's Armed Forces, Operational Department of the Workers' Party and the Second Economic Committee. He said the Economic Committee, which is directly under the control of the powerful National Defense Commission, is the biggest.

The military arms production wing procures materials for the Yongbyon nuclear plant and North Korea's nuclear weapons program. "The General Bureau of Atomic Energy only produces yellow cake [the seed material for higher-grade nuclear enrichment], while the arms production wing is in charge of the Yongbyon facility," the defector said. "The main client is the research center of Iran's Revolutionary Guard.”

International sanctions against North Korea make it difficult to export weapons by conventional means. "This is where the Surveillance Division of the People's Armed Forces comes in," the defector said. Its "traders," who studied at Pyongyang University of Foreign Studies, are fluent in English and Chinese and sign deals with "forwarders" from other countries. Through this process, North Korea sends containers across the Apnok (or Yalu) River to China one third or half filled with weapons. "The forwarder who received this cargo enters a port in a third country, where the containers are filled with freight unrelated to weapons and the paperwork is completed," he said.

"Small arms ammunition are hot export items and the Second Economic Committee even built a factory in Ethiopia," the defector said. The rugged AK-47s, which can operate flawlessly even in the sand-filled battlefields of the Middle East, are extremely popular, he said.

North Korean arms are believed to be exported to Bangladesh, Indonesia, Pakistan and the Philippines.

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