Wed, Dec 16, 2009 - Page 5 News List

Thais to destroy mystery weapons

AFP AND AP , BANGKOK

The Thai government said yesterday it would ask the UN for money to destroy a cache of sanctions-busting weapons seized from a plane out of North Korea, as officials began inspecting the arms.

The 35-tonne load, including missiles and rocket-propelled grenades, was discovered after a Belarusian pilot and four Kazakh crew landed an Ilyushin Il-76 transport plane to refuel at Bangkok’s Don Mueang airport on Friday.

Thai government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn told reporters that all the weapons, worth millions of dollars, would be destroyed. But Thailand may need to call in experts to help if “sophisticated” arms are found.

“The Thai government is preparing to ask for funds from the United Nations to spend on the destruction of the seized weapons. As of now I cannot say how much money we need,” he said.

A Thai court extended the detention of the crew on Monday so police could investigate further. The five men have been charged with possessing war weapons but deny knowing what they were transporting, police said.

Meanwhile, more than 100 police, legal officials and armed forces began carrying out detailed inspections of the weapons at an airbase in Nakhon Sawan province.

“We have examined the 145 cases of weapons and photographed them,” said Sirisak Tiyapan of the Attorney General office’s international affairs department.

The crew’s Thai lawyer said the plane was registered to Air West, a cargo transport company in the former Soviet republic of Georgia

Prior to that it was registered under a company named Beibars linked to Serbian arms trafficker Tonislav Damnjanovic, and before that registered with three companies identified by the US Treasury Department as firms controlled by Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, said Hugh Griffiths, a researcher at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, a think tank that is a world leader in tracking the arms trade and analyzing military spending.

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