Sunday, March 7, 2010

North Korea arms to Africa: Unusual only because illegal

The recently reported seizure of a North Korean arms shipment supposedly intended for Congo-Brazzaville highlights the continuing flow of weapons into African conflict zones from multiple sources.

Last week, South Africa reported to the United Nations that it had intercepted concealed North Korean military cargo in November.

The shipment, it said, violated a UN arms embargo and may have been made in collusion with China.

But larger-scale military transfers to unstable African states by other suppliers, including the United States, are regularly carried out without notice by the world press.

The T-54 and T-55 tank parts seized by South African authorities in Durban originated in North Korea.

They had been loaded onto a container ship in the Chinese port of Dalian.

China says it is investigating the shipment, which violates a UN ban on military exports by North Korea.

The war material, listed on a manifest as “spare parts of bulldozer,” had been hidden behind sacks of rice carried on a French-owned vessel.

A bill of lading indicated that the cargo was bound for Pointe Noire in Congo-Brazzaville, an oil-producing country that borders the much larger Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

There is reason to suspect that the estimated $770,000 worth of North Korean military equipment was actually destined for the DRC, which is known to have T-55 tanks in its arsenal.

Episodes of unrest

The US embassy in Congo-Brazzaville says in a posting on its website that “there have been no serious episodes of unrest or violence since the March 2003 peace accord” that put an end to a civil war in the country. And a UN report released in December found that both North Korea and China had shipped weapons to the DRC’s army.

A group of UN experts indicated in the report that a North Korean ship, the Bi Ro Bong, had delivered more than 3400 tonnes of weapons to the DRC military in January 2009 through Boma Port.

The UN group also reported that North Korean military personnel had trained DRC troops in Kinshasha in May 2009.

The US and North Korea may be radically unlike, but when it comes to training Congolese forces, the two have identical aims.

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