Page last updated at 10:40 GMT, Thursday, 11 February 2010

Thailand drops North Korea weapons charges

Plane at Bangkok airport
The cargo plane had stopped to refuel in Bangkok when it was searched

Thailand has dropped charges against the five-member crew of a plane suspected of carrying weapons from North Korea.

A spokesman for Thailand's attorney general said the five would be deported to face prosecution in their own countries.

The five men, four from Kazakhstan and one from Belarus, were held after a refuelling stop in Bangkok in December.

The movement of weapons from North Korea is subject to UN sanctions.

When the cargo plane was inspected it was found to be carrying 30 tonnes of weapons, including rocket-propelled grenades, explosives and missile components.

The ultimate destination of the arms remains unknown.


Thanapich Mulapruk, spokesman for the attorney general's office, said in a statement: "The trial here will not benefit Thailand, so we have decided to drop the charges.

"Their countries of origin want to try the men in their home countries."

The crew members - who were charged with the illegal possession of weapons - were expected to be released later in the day, said their lawyer Somsak Saithong, quoted by AP news agency.

The plane's crew 14.12.09
The five say they believed the cargo was oil-drilling equipment

The Georgian-registered Ilyushin Il-76 aircraft is believed to have started its journey in Central Asia.

Thai media has reported it had made several stops on its way to North Korea, including in Thailand.

It is believed a tip-off from US officials led Thai authorities to search the aircraft when it stopped in Bangkok on the return journey.

The five men have said they had no idea the plane had a cargo of arms.

Their lawyer said they had thought they had been carrying equipment for oil drilling.

Cynthia Brown, a spokesman for the US embassy in Bangkok, said the US "congratulated" Thailand for supporting UN resolutions regarding North Korea.

"They have submitted their investigation to the UN," she said.

The UN has imposed a raft of sanctions against North Korea in response to its nuclear programme.

However, analysts say that despite the embargo, North Korea earns hundreds of millions of dollars every year by selling arms to countries such as Iran, Syria and Burma.

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