South Korea has reported the seizure of cargo from a Chinese freighter that can be used to produce ballistic missiles and was reportedly made in North Korea and destined for Syria, U.N. diplomats said Wednesday.
The diplomats said seizure of the 445 graphite cylinders from the Shanghai-registered Xin Yan Tai in May at the South Korean port of Busan was reported to the U.N. Security Council committee monitoring sanctions against North Korea because it could be a violation of sanctions against the reclusive, nuclear-armed Asian nation.
The council imposed sanctions against North Korea after its first nuclear test in 2006 and stepped up the punitive measures after its second test in 2009 to try to derail the country's rogue nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs. Under the sanctions, the North is barred from importing or exporting nuclear and missile material and technology.
In an interim report circulated recently to the sanctions committee, the panel of experts assisting the committee said South Korea reported its "inspection and seizure of ballistic missile-related items" on June 29, one diplomat said.
The panel followed up by making an inspection visit to South Korea between July 29 and Aug. 2 and consulting with South Korean authorities on Oct. 5, the diplomat said.
"China briefed the committee on this matter on Oct. 24," the diplomat quoted the interim report as saying. "To continue its investigation, it is essential for the panel to have additional information about those involved in the shipment."
According to the diplomats, the shipment was arranged by a North Korean trading company and was destined for a Syrian company called Electric Parts.
While there are U.S. and European Union sanctions against Syria, Russia and China have vetoed three Security Council resolutions aimed at pressuring Syrian President Bashar Assad to halt the escalating 20-month conflict, including by threatening sanctions. Russia and Iran are Syria's main arms suppliers.
The expert panel's annual report in May said North Korea continues to violate U.N. sanctions, citing possible attempts to ship arms to Syria and Myanmar and illegally import luxury goods. The panel said the violations "illustrate elaborate techniques" used by the North to evade the discovery of its sanctions-busting.
According to one diplomat, the panel's interim report said China also briefed the committee on Oct. 24 on reports that a Chinese company exported vehicles to North Korea capable of transporting and launching missiles, in possible violation of U.N. sanctions.
Such vehicles — called TELs, for transporter, erector, launcher — became the focus of international attention when North Korea displayed what looked like several of them during a military parade in its capital, Pyongyang, in April. They are a concern because they could give the North the ability to transport long-range missiles around its territory, making them harder to locate and destroy.
The diplomat quoted the interim report as saying that at the April 15 parade, North Korea "displayed several transporter erector launcher vehicles of much greater sophistication than any that it was previously thought to possess."
"The panel continues to investigate this case and has made various inquiries," the diplomat quoted the report as saying.
In the Oct. 24 session, the diplomat said China told the committee that a Chinese company delivered six vehicles used to cut trees for lumber to North Korea based on an end user certificate from Pyongyang stating that the vehicles would only be used for this purpose.