N. Korean ship could test UN resolution when it refuels
Wednesday, June 24, 2009 2:55 AM
BY HYUNG-JIN KIM
SEOUL, South Korea — An American destroyer tailed a North Korean ship yesterday as it sailed along China’s coast, U.S. officials said, amid concerns that the vessel is carrying illicit arms destined for Myanmar.
The sailing sets up the first test of a new U.N. Security Council resolution that authorizes member states to inspect North Korean vessels suspected of carrying banned weapons or materials. The sanctions are punishment for an underground nuclear test the North carried out last month in defiance of past resolutions.
A U.S. 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. 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.
Also yesterday, U.S. defense and counterproliferation officials said that a missile test threatened by North Korea is expected to launch short- to medium-range missiles rather than a long-range missile similar to one tested in April
But in the event North Korea launches a long-range missile, Defense Secretary Robert Gates has ordered the deployment of a ground-based mobile-missile-intercept system and a radar system to Hawaii.
The North Korean-flagged Kang Nam left the port of Nampo last Wednesday, with the U.S. destroyer following it. The North has said it would consider any interception “an act of war,” and an editorial yesterday in its main Rodong Sinmun newspaper said the Korean peninsula was on the brink of a nuclear war.
“A grave situation is being forged in the Korean peninsula where a nuclear war could happen with any accidental factor due to the sanctions,” said the editorial posted on a government-run Web site.
In the event that the American destroyer does ask to inspect the Kang Nam and North Korea refuses, the U.N. resolution states that the ship must be directed to a port of Pyongyang’s choosing. It was unclear which port the ship would be taken to, though yesterday a Pentagon officials said it was about 100 miles north of the Taiwan Strait — close to the Chinese and Taiwanese coasts.
It’s not clear exactly what the Kang Nam has on board, but it has transported illicit goods in the past.
A Pentagon official said the chief suspicion is that the ship is headed to Myanmar.
The North is thought to have sold guns, artillery and other small weapons to Myanmar, which is the target of U.S. and EU arms embargoes because of its poor human-rights record.