NORTH KOREA has been shipping materials to the Syrian government for use in what is suspected to be an industrial-scale chemical weapons factory, according to intelligence information cited in a confidential United Nations report.
US media reported a Chinese trading firm working on behalf of Pyongyang made five shipments in late 2016 and early 2017 of high-heat, acid-resistant tiles, stainless-steel pipes and valves to Damascus. The UN report cited this as evidence that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is paying North Korea to help his country produce chemical arms.
According to The Wall Street Journal, the shipments were part of a steady stream of weapons-related sales by Pyongyang to Syria.
The allegations come after fresh reports of chlorine gas attacks by Syrian forces in Eastern Ghouta. A statement from besieged Eastern Ghouta’s interim health ministry said victims in the town of al-Shifoniyeh had been admitted to hospital with convulsions, difficulty breathing and irritation of the eyes and mouth following an air strike on Sunday night. The Syrian regime has denied carrying out the attack.
The report, which was written by a panel of experts who looked at North Korea’s compliance with UN sanctions, said North Korean missile technicians have also been spotted working at known chemical weapons and missile facilities inside Syria, as reported by The New York Times.
The Syrian government is reported to have denied this, claiming the only North Koreans in Syria are sports coaches and athletes.
North Korea is currently under strict international sanctions that include restrictions on international trade in an effort to curb its nuclear weapons programme.
Syria’s Scientific Studies and Research Center (SSRC), the Assad-backed group responsible for developing chemical and other weapons of mass destruction, used a series of front companies to pay for the illicit materials.
According to the Times, the report details how Pyongyang consistently uses a complex web of shell companies and sympathetic foreign citizens to gain access to international financing. The regime also uses its own diplomats in smuggling operations and employs sophisticated cyber operations to steal military secrets.
The successful delivery of these shipments between two heavily monitored and isolated nations has highlighted the shortcomings in international efforts to restrict both countries. The shipments would have eluded detection despite both nations being under intense scrutiny from American and international spy agencies.
Last week, US President Donald Trump said Washington was imposing a fresh set of sanctions on North Korea, targeting more than 50 ships and maritime transport companies in several countries.
The US says the new sanctions are designed to put a further squeeze on North Korea, cutting off sources of revenue and fuel for its nuclear programme and clamping down on evasion of already existing restrictions.