Sunday, 13 December 2009


Thai authorities have seized tonnes of weapons from an eastern European plane travelling from North Korea.

WAR BIRD: An Ilyushin Il-76 aircraft which is believed to have come from North Korea is cordoned off for examination at Don Mueang airport after an arms cache weighing 35 tonnes was found on board.

The plane, headed for South Asia, was searched when it landed at Don Mueang airport yesterday.

Five foreigners on board the aircraft were detained, the weapons confiscated, and the plane impounded.

The transport plane, thought to be a charter flight en route from the North Korean capital Pyongyang, had stopped for refuelling.

Security authorities asked to search the aircraft after being tipped off by their American counterparts.

The armed forces, police, immigration and customs officers are investigating the mystery surrounding the arms and ammunition cache, found concealed in 12 crates and weighing about 35 tonnes.

Government spokesman Panithan Wattanayakorn confirmed the seizure and the arrests, saying the weapons included "missiles, explosives and tubes".

Lt Gen Thangai Prasajaksattru, commander of the Central Investigation Bureau, said five men from eastern Europe had been detained.

"There were a lot of weapons such as rocket-propelled grenades, missiles and other war weapons," he said.

Four of the suspects hold Kazakh passports and the other a Belarus passport.

They were identified as Alexandr Zrybnev, 53, Viktor Abdullayev, 58, Vitaliy Shumkov, 54, Ilyas Issakov, 53, from Kazakhstan; and Mikhail Petukhou, 54, from Belarus. Air force spokesman Montol Suchookorn and special branch police said the chartered cargo plane originated in Pyongyang.

"It was a cargo flight that requested to land at the civilian side of the airport," Cpt Montol said.

GROUNDED: The pilot and crew of the Ilyushin Il-76 aircraft were detained at the Crime Suppression Division yesterday.

The Russia-made Ilyushin Il-76 transporter aircraft carried five people on board.

When customs and immigration authorities examined the aircraft they found suspicious packages in tightly-sealed wood and metal crates.

They were told that the shipment comprised "parts" of war weapons.

Authorities asked the five people to leave the aircraft and alerted the air force, which is in charge of the airport.

The suspects have told the interrogators little.

Authorities have yet to confirm where the aircraft, registered 4L-AWA, originated. At this stage they believe it was registered in Georgia, or Russia.

The flight schedule says the plane was headed for Colombo, Sri Lanka. Security authorities suspect the weapons could be destined for Sri Lanka or the Middle East.

One suspect told authorities that the aircraft flew from Russia to North Korea where the weapons were loaded.

The foreigners are in the custody of the Crime Suppression Division. They face charges of violating aviation regulations, arms trafficking and making a false declaration.

The weapons were transferred to the air force's arms depot in Wing 4 in Nakhon Sawan's Takhli district.

The Defence Ministry, the Foreign Ministry and the Justice Ministry are reviewing international regulations to find out if the aircraft and the cache can be seized permanently.

Foreign embassies will be asked to take part in the investigation. Foreign Ministry deputy spokesman Thani Thingpakdi said the government's response is in line with UN Security Council resolutions.

One unconfirmed report says the plane had made regular trips across the region.

An air force official involved in the inspection said Thai authorities had been asked by the United States to investigate the plane and its cargo.

"We were approached by the United States, seeking our cooperation to examine the suspected plane. It came from North Korea and was heading for somewhere in South Asia, probably Pakistan," he said.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said Interpol was also involved.

A spokesman for the US embassy in Bangkok, Michael Turner, said he was unaware of the incident.

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