North Korea is supplying chemical weapons to Syria: UN experts

Amid an investigation that the Assad regime has been using chemical weapons, a panel of UN weapons experts has now linked North Korean chemical weapons supplies to Syria. This may have been going on for decades, it says.

UN weapons experts have found that North Korea has been supplying Syria with items used in manufacturing chemical weapons, according to an unpublished report released to US media.

The report seen by The New York Times and The Associated Press claims to provide “substantial new evidence” of North Korea exporting material used in Syrian ballistic missile and chemical weapons programs as far back as 2008. It is also alleges that North Korean missile technicians traveled to Syria and were observed working at known chemical weapons and missile facilities inside the country.

Apart from violating UN sanctions, the experts reportedly describe the arrangement as a source of much needed cash for North Korea’s nuclear missile program; for the Syrians, it would enable them to maintain their chemical weapons arsenal.

The report includes Syria’s response to the panel about the allegations: “There are no Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) technical companies in Syria and the only presence of some DPRK individuals are confined in the field of sports under private individual contracts for training athletics and gymnastics.”

The UN panel said Syrian officials had not responded to a request for documents that would support this assertion, nor had the UN been given a list of all North Koreans who have traveled to Syria.

Links to evidence

Although Syria signed the Chemical Weapons Convention in 2013, and said that it had given up its chemical weapons stocks, the latest UN report underscores ongoing concerns that the Assad regime has reneged on this agreement.

One example of the illegal trade agreement cited in the report was a visit by a technical delegation from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in August 2016. This trip “involved the transfer to Syria of special resistance valves and thermometers known for use in chemical weapons programs.”

The panel also examined container shipments sent by the Chinese company Cheng Tong Trading Co. Ltd. to Damascus-based companies in 2016 and 2017. They found that 13 shipping containers were filled with “acid resistant tiles,” which are commonly used for building chemical weapons factories. There were apparently enough to cover 5,000 square meters (54,000 square feet), enough for a large-scale industrial project.

The experts also investigated the activities of Ryu Jin, a senior official in Syria for the Korea Mining Development Trading Corporation known as KOMID, who is on the UN sanctions blacklist.  KOMID is the DPRK’s main arms dealer and primary exporter of material and equipment related to ballistic missiles and conventional weapons. Ryu Jin is believed to have exported ball-bearings and fiber-optic cables to Syria, earning over €100,000.

Investigations opened

Revelations of chemical weapons violations followed closely after an announcement by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) on Tuesday that it had opened an investigation into attacks on rebel-held eastern Ghouta. It will be examining strikes that took place on Sunday, which authorities claim killed a child and caused symptoms consistent with exposure to chorine gas.

Earlier this month, political leaders in Great Britain, France and the United States said they would support targeted military action against the Assad regime, if there was proof that chemical weapons had been used.

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