Plane crew face Thai charges

BANGKOK: Thailand said today it would bring charges against four Kazakhs and a Belarussian detained in Bangkok with a sanctions-busting plane cargo bristling with 30 tonnes of North Korean weapons.

The cache, including missiles and rocket-propelled grenades, was discovered after the pilot from Belarus and four other crew from Kazakhstan landed for refuelling at Bangkok’s domestic Don Mueang airport on Friday, officials said.

“We will strictly follow our own laws and UN resolutions. The investigation is progressing. Charges will soon be set,” Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said after Thailand’s biggest-ever weapons seizure.

The government does not yet know where the weapons were bound, he said.

“We are not yet clear why they were transporting these weapons, we only know they were due to refuel in Sri Lanka (after Bangkok),” Abhisit told reporters.

“Security and intelligence services are continuing

to investigate. It is not

yet clear if this is terrorist activity,” he said.

The plane began its

journey in North Korea’s

capital Pyongyang. Abhisit said the weapons came

from a North Korean company and the plane was registered in Georgia.

Thai media reported it was a Russian-made IL-76 cargo plane. Government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn said it carried more than 30 tonnes of North Korean weaponry, in breach of UN sanctions.

“UN resolution 1874 bans the transfer of weapons from North Korea and identifies four steps that we must follow — inspecting, seizing and destroying the weapons, and informing the UN of our find,” Panitan said.

“We are not familiar with these weapons. We will start checking them on Tuesday and if we can’t identify them, we will seek assistance from UN experts. It will take some time,” he added.

Panitan, who said it was the largest-ever seizure of arms in Thailand, said the weapons had been transferred to Takhli air force base in the central Thai province of Nakhon Sawan.

The suspects would remain in Bangkok as they had broken domestic laws, the spokesman said.

Abhisit said the crew requested permission to land for refuelling in Bangkok and then lied to inspectors about the plane’s cargo, saying it carried only oil-drilling equipment.

“They committed two crimes, firstly they gave

false information about their cargo, and secondly that cargo was found to be weapons,” he said.

“We received the tip-off from intelligence reports that said this plane was suspicious. When the plane refuelled, we searched it and found the weapons.” Officials previously said the plane had landed on Saturday morning but Abhisit said it flew in on Friday.