NKorean Cargo Ship Could Test New UN Sanctions
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NKorean Cargo Ship Could Test New UN Sanctions

By HYUNG-JIN KIM / AP WRITER Wednesday, June 24, 2009


SEOUL — An American destroyer was tailing a North Korean ship suspected of transporting weapons toward Burma, as anticipation mounted Wednesday that the North could soon conduct short-or medium-range missiles tests.

The Kang Nam left the North Korean port of Nampo a week ago, and the destroyer USS John S. McCain was following as it sailed off the Chinese coast. The sailing sets up the first test of a new UN Security Council resolution that authorizes member states to inspect North Korean vessels suspected of carrying banned weapons or materials.

South Korean soldiers check the border fence as they patrol the North Korean border in Chulwon, north of Seoul on June 23. South Korean troops have been on heightened alert along the world's last Cold War frontier, amid high tensions over the communist country's missile and nuclear tests, with general leading US forces in South Korea saying that the North was likely to use insurgent tactics against both civilians and troops in rear areas should war break out on the peninsula. (Photo: Getty Images)
The sanctions are punishment for an underground nuclear test the North carried out last month in defiance of past resolutions. It's not clear exactly what the Kang Nam has on board, but it has transported illicit goods in the past.

The North has said it would consider any interception "an act of war," with its state media Wednesday accusing the US of fostering "the worst-ever tension" between the Koreas.

"It's evident that a solid peace on the Korean peninsula cannot be established unless the US hostile policy and its plot to isolate our republic are put to an end," the North's main Rodong Sinmun newspaper said in a commentary published by the Korean Central News Agency.

A US official said last week that the American destroyer has no orders to intercept the ship, but experts say the vessel will need to stop to refuel soon on a 4,100-mile (6,660-kilometer), two-week, voyage to Burma. The resolution prohibits member states from providing such services to ships accused of bearing banned goods.

Nearby Singapore—the world's largest refueling hub—says it will "act appropriately" if the ship docks at its port with suspicious goods on board.

At most, Singapore may refuse to let the ship refuel, said Hong Hyun-ik, an analyst at the Sejong Institute think tank in South Korea. He also speculated that the Kang Nam may not have banned cargo on board, knowing the ship could be subject to scrutiny.

The ship has no plan to dock at Hong Kong, according to the Internet log of Hong Kong's Marine Department which shows planned ship arrivals and departures. In 2006, the Kang Nam was once detained in Hong Kong for safety violations, a measure taken after the UN's earlier sanctions imposed following the country's first nuclear test in 2006.

In the event that the American destroyer does ask to inspect the Kang Nam and North Korea refuses, the UN resolution states the ship must be directed to a port of Pyongyang's choosing. It was not clear which port the ship would be taken to. On Tuesday, a Pentagon official said the ship was about 100 miles (160 kilometers) north of the Taiwan Strait—close to both the Chinese and Taiwanese coasts.

The North is believed to have sold guns, artillery and other small weapons to Burma in the past. The Southeast Asian military state is the target of US and EU arms embargoes. There are concerns it could use small arms in the counterinsurgency campaigns it conducts against ethnic minorities.

Meanwhile, North Korea has issued a notice banning ships from the waters off its east coast between June 25 and July 10 citing maritime firing drills, according to Japan's Coast Guard.

South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported Wednesday the North may fire a Scud missile with a range of up to 310 miles (500 kilometers) or a short-range ground-to-ship missile with a range of 100 miles (160 kilometers) during the no-sail period.

Yonhap quoted an unidentified South Korean government official as saying the launch is expected from the eastern coastal city of Anbyon. South Korea's Defense Ministry, however, said Wednesday that there was no particular signs in the area.

It had earlier been reported that the North would test a a long-range missile similar to one tested in April.

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