Plane crew denies knowledge of arms

Plane crew denies knowledge of arms

Thai authorities detain weapons-laden aircraft from N Korea after emergency landing

Plane crew denies knowledge of arms

“They said it was oil drilling equipment,” said Viktor Abdullayev, the plane’s co-pilot. “That’s what the manager told us,” he said referring to his employer, a civilian cargo company from the former Soviet republic of Georgia.

Officials in Thailand did little over the weekend to shed light on the perplexing seizure of the aircraft, offering only rudimentary details about the plane, its crew and its cargo. The five-man crew is to be charged in court on Monday with possession of weapons of war, in a case that may shed light on the shadowy business of global arms trafficking — and in North Korea’s role, in particular.

Thai authorities said the weapons were seized after a tip off  from American officials, and said the shipment appeared to violate a UN arms embargo but did not provide a detailed accounting of the armaments, which will undergo a thorough inspection on Tuesday.

Thailand was acting, it said, under UN Resolution 1874, which was passed in June in response to nuclear tests in North Korea. The resolution is effectively an arms embargo covering the transport of heavy weaponry to and from North Korea. Such weapons sales are one of the few ways the country has been able to earn foreign currency.

The resolution, which builds on a previous resolution from 2006, calls on countries to “inspect and destroy” certain categories of weapons bound to or from North Korea, including large-calibre artillery, missiles and missile spare parts.

No major seizures of weapons have been made public since the passage of the resolution. This summer, the US Navy tracked a North Korean freighter suspected of carrying banned cargo for about three weeks, and the ship eventually turned back to its home port without incident.

Speaking in rudimentary English, Abdullayev and his colleagues said they started their current mission in Ukraine, picked up cargo in North Korea and were travelling back to Ukraine via Thailand, Sri Lanka and the UAE. They declined to say in which of those locations the cargo was meant to be delivered. Abdullayev, who said he was from Kazakhstan, said it never occurred to him to enquire about the cargo.

Panitan Wattanayagorn, the Thai government spokesman, said in an interview that the aircraft, a Russian-made Ilyushin 76, which is registered in Georgia, had come through Bangkok twice — both on the way and during the return trip from North Korea. The aircraft was searched on the return journey after Thai authorities were tipped off by American officials that the aircraft might be carrying weapons.