US Stops North Korean Ship on Suspected Burma Mission

Posted June 13th, 2011 at 10:40 am (UTC-5)
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The United States says its Navy intercepted a ship suspected of carrying missile technology from North Korea to Burma, and forced the vessel to return home after a standoff lasting several days.

Special assistant to U.S. President Barack Obama, Gary Samore, identified the cargo vessel as the M/V Light. He said the ship was suspected of carrying contraband, such as small arms or missile technology to Burma.

Samore, coordinator for arms control and weapons of mass destruction, said the U.S. was suspicious of the ship because it has been involved in weapons exports to Burma and the Middle East in the past.

The U.S. Navy destroyer McCampbell intercepted the Belize-flagged vessel in international waters on May 26 and had permission from Belize to search it. But the North Korean crew refused to be boarded, and after a few days of military confrontation and diplomatic pressure, turned toward home.

Samore told VOA's Korean Service that the United States did not force the issue because officials were not certain of the ship's cargo. But the United States held a meeting with its partners in the Association of Southeast Asia Nations, and “made the case” that the ship might be violating United Nations sanctions, and there were grounds for it to be inspected if it called into ASEAN ports.

He said the ASEAN nations, including Burma, expressed their willingness to comply with United Nations Security Council's sanctions on North Korea, which include a ban on arms trading.

He also said the U.S. communicated with North Korea, through its United Nations delegation in New York, to warn it that if the ship continued its voyage, it would “obviously complicate our efforts” to improve relations and resume six-nation talks on ending North Korea's nuclear weapons program.

U.S. officials described the episode as an example of how they can use a combination of naval power and diplomatic pressure to enforce U.N. sanctions posed on North Korea after a 2009 nuclear test.

The United States has no formal relations with North Korea, and has led efforts to push the impoverished communist state to abandon efforts to build nuclear weapons and to trade in missiles and weapons technology.

Washington also has expressed concern about Burma's military ties with North Korea. There have been numerous reports that Burma, considered one of the most repressive countries in the world, is attempting to buy missile, and possibly nuclear, technology from North Korea, although there has been no confirmation of the reports.