North Korea 'shipping orders to Syria chemical arms agency'

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Two shipments sent from North Korea arms exporter to Syria's Scientific Studies and Research Centre were intercepted, says UN report

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Thursday 7 September 2017 12:02 UTC
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Two North Korean shipments to a Syrian government agency responsible for the country's chemical weapons programme were intercepted in the past six months, according to a confidential UN report on North Korea sanctions violations.

The report by a panel of independent UN experts, which was submitted to the UN Security Council earlier this month and seen by Reuters on Monday, gave no details on when or where the interdictions occurred or what the shipments contained.

"The panel is investigating reported prohibited chemical, ballistic missile and conventional arms cooperation between Syria and the DPRK (North Korea)," the experts wrote in the 37-page report.

"Two member states interdicted shipments destined for Syria. Another member state informed the panel that it had reasons to believe that the goods were part of a KOMID contract with Syria," according to the report.

KOMID is the Korea Mining Development Trading Corporation. It was blacklisted by the Security Council in 2009 and described as Pyongyang's key arms dealer and exporter of equipment related to ballistic missiles and conventional weapons. In March 2016, the council also blacklisted two KOMID representatives in Syria.

Syria agreed to destroy its chemical weapons in 2013 under a deal brokered by Russia and the United States. However, diplomats and weapons inspectors suspect Syria may have secretly maintained or developed a new chemical weapons capability.

"The consignees were Syrian entities designated by the EU and the US as front companies for Syria's Scientific Studies and Research Centre (SSRC), a Syrian entity identified by the Panel as cooperating with KOMID in previous prohibited item transfers," the UN experts wrote.

SSRC has overseen the country's chemical weapons programme since the 1970s.

The UN experts said activities between Syria and North Korea they were investigating included cooperation on Syrian Scud missile programmes and maintenance and repair of Syrian surface-to-air missiles air defence systems.

The North Korean and Syrian missions to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Russia hails 'dramatic shift' in Syria

Russia on Monday hailed what it said was "a dramatic shift" in the Syria conflict, saying that the Syrian army, with Moscow's help, was well on its way to pushing militants out of the central part of the country.

In a statement from the Russian defence ministry, Colonel-General Sergei Rudskoi said the province of Aleppo had been entirely "liberated" with control of 50 population centres and more than 2,700 square kilometres of territory taken back from rebels.

"In the last month a dramatic shift has taken place in Syria," said Rudskoi. "With the support of the Russian air force, Syrian forces have notched up a series of significant successes."

He added that government forces have won a major battle against a group of Islamic State (IS) group militants in the central part of Syria.
 
With IS militants concentrated in Deir Ezzor, he said Russia had stepped up its bombing runs in the area, adding that the Syrian army was closing in on the militant group from three sides.

Rudskoi said the Syrian army was advancing at a pace of 30-40 kilometres or more daily and using new battlefield tactics such as surprise landings by helicopter.

"The main aim is to destroy the last stronghold of the terrorists in the Deir Ezzor region," said Rudskoi.