Page last updated at 05:27 GMT, Monday, 14 December 2009

'N Korean arms cargo' men charged in Thailand

By Rachel Harvey
South East Asia Correspondent, BBC News, Bangkok

South Korean soldiers unload the plane at Bangkok airport
The Il-76 was unloaded by Thai soldiers

Five crew members of a plane seized in Bangkok on Saturday have been charged with the illegal possession of weapons.

The five men, four from Kazakhstan and one from Belarus, are to be detained without bail for a further 12 days while investigations continue.

The cargo plane is believed to have left from North Korea and requested a stop in Bangkok to refuel.

When the aircraft was inspected, it was found to be carrying more than 30 tonnes of weapons.

The cargo included rocket propelled grenades, explosives and missile components.

International intrigue

There is a good deal of mystery, and an equal amount of speculation about the five men, their plane, and its illicit cargo.

But the few hard facts that have now been established paint an intriguing picture.

Thain police escort away a man taken from the cargo plane in Bangkok airport, 12 December
The crew are said to have requested a translator from the Russian embassy

The aircraft is believed to have started its journey in Central Asia.

It made several stops on its way to North Korea, including a brief stop in Thailand on Friday.

But when it returned on Saturday morning to the same Bangkok airport to refuel, the plane was searched and the huge cache of weapons discovered.

The crucial question which remains unanswered is where the plane was ultimately heading.

Several local reports suggest that Sri Lanka may have been the next scheduled re-fuelling stop.

But beyond that, theories vary wildly from Pakistan to Yemen.

Thai investigators now have twelve more days to question the crew, but so far the five men deny any knowledge of the cargo they were carrying.

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