How North Korea Sells Illegal Arms, Despite Sanctions

Capture of weapons cache in Egypt highlights how Pyongyang flouts UN
By Linda Hervieux,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 2, 2017 9:40 AM CDT
How North Korea Sells Illegal Arms, Despite Sanctions
People fill the square of the main railway station in Pyongyang to watch a televised news broadcast of the launch of an intercontinental ballistic rocket in August.   (AP Photo/Kim Kwang Hyon)

A major delivery of North Korean arms to Egypt last year was dashed only after American spies got wind of the illegal cache and, alerting officials in Cairo, essentially forced the US ally to seize the rickety ship. The dashed deal reveals the difficulty of stopping the illegal arms trade with Pyongyang despite UN sanctions, the Washington Post reports. The freighter Jie Shun, sailing in secret under a Cambodian flag, was ferrying 30,000 rocket-propelled grenades hiding under a load of iron ore. A UN report later called it the "largest seizure of ammunition in the history of sanctions" against the North. While it was unknown if the buyers, Egyptian businessmen, ever paid the $23 million tab, the incident angered US officials, who put the brakes on nearly $300 million in military aid to Cairo over the summer.

Egypt's defense minister announced last month his country was cutting military ties to North Korea. But with long-standing ties to Pyongyang dating to when it was legal to trade, Cairo remains a "resilient customer today" for Kim Jong Un's arsenal of Cold War-era conventional weapons, one expert tells the Post. Sanctions and the war of words playing out between President Trump and Kim has failed to defeat a vibrant trade with countries whose military forces depend on the Soviet-designed hardware and replacement parts North Korea can provide, including Cuba, Syria, Burma, and Uganda. Terrorists have obtained small arms they've used to carry out attacks, the Guardian reported last month. "As the Russians and Chinese have moved away from this market, the North Koreans have stuck around," an expert tells the Post. (Trump calls negotiations with North Korea a waste of time.)

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