- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 11, 2002

U.S. and allied warships have seized a North Korean ship in the Arabian Sea with a shipment of a dozen Scud missiles bound for Yemen.
The boarding and seizure took place Monday about 600 miles east of the Horn of Africa, said defense and administration officials familiar with the incident.
The missile shipment was first disclosed by The Washington Times on Dec. 2 after the vessel departed several weeks ago from the North Korean port of Nampo with the Scud missiles and their components and a missile fuel chemical.
"U.S. intelligence had been tracking the ship closely, and what were found were about a dozen Scud missiles," one official said, confirming that it was the shipment first disclosed by The Times.
Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage yesterday called the seizure "expected" and the latest proof of North Korean involvement in missile proliferation.
"It appears that [North Korea] was busy proliferating again," he told reporters in Beijing after arriving for talks with Chinese leaders. "It appears that this vessel was carrying Scud missiles. It's been apprehended at sea in what I understand was a perfectly legal manner."
"Obviously, this was expected by American authorities for some time," he said. "I don't think there's any change. This is not exactly a development that is new."
According to the officials, two Spanish warships first approached the ship, which sought to evade capture. Warning shots were fired, and the ship halted and was boarded.
The Spanish ships were engaged in maritime-intercept operations aimed at finding al Qaeda terrorists in the region.
A team of U.S. military weapons specialists from aboard an American warship found the Scuds. Other details about what was on the vessel, which had listed its cargo as cement, could not be learned last night.
Officials said the ship was not a North Korean-flagged vessel, but evidence uncovered on the ship indicated that it was North Korean.
"It is a Cambodian vessel improperly registered. It had a name of So San, and it was painted over the original name. There was also paint over its ID number," a second administration official said.
The crew on the ship was North Korean, and the official said that when the ship refused the Spaniards' boarding request, it communicated a signal to Pyongyang.
Then yesterday, "the Spanish asked the Americans to help them inspect the cargo," the official said.
It was not clear last night what would happen to the shipment, which U.S. and allied forces in the Persian Gulf are likely to confiscate.
The interdiction could raise protests from North Korea, which recently announced that it was covertly working on nuclear weapons in violation of a 1994 agreement to halt its nuclear-arms program.
The North Korean ship was identified by U.S. intelligence agencies in November as it picked up the missile cargo, which included a chemical known as inhibited red fuming nitric acid, an agent used as an oxidizer in Scud missile fuel.
The missiles had been under surveillance for several weeks before they left the port.
The shipment is believed to be part of a deal between North Korea and Yemen that was made public earlier this year and which led to economic sanctions against North Korea, but not Yemen, in August.
The Bush administration decided not to sanction the Arab state because it supports U.S. military and intelligence operations against al Qaeda terrorists, some of whom blew a hole in the side of the destroyer USS Cole while it was docked in the Yemeni capital, Aden. That attack in October 2000 killed 17 American sailors.
An administration official said the Yemeni government had promised the U.S. government that it would not purchase any more Scuds from North Korea, a promise the latest shipment would violate, the official said.
Another official said the cargo may have been intercepted before it reached Yemen to avoid embarrassing the government there.
The dispute with North Korea, which was prompted by disclosures about the nuclear program in October, led to a suspension of U.S. fuel-oil shipments that were a stopgap measure to help impoverished North Korea until two nuclear-power-generating reactor facilities are built. The nuclear-reactor program is in doubt.
According to administration officials, the latest Scud transfer is expected to lead to tougher sanctions against North Korea and possibly on Yemen.
A company that was sanctioned in August for the Yemeni missile transfer was identified by U.S. officials as the state-run Changgwang Sinyong Corp., the communist government's missile exporter.
Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh said in a speech in August that the missiles were purchased and that it was "a legitimate right for Yemen" to buy the systems.
A Yemeni Embassy spokesman, Yahyah Alshawakani, told The Times last week that Yemen's only missile shipment from North Korea took place earlier this year and denied that any other missile shipments were made.
Yemen has been a key supporter of the U.S.-led war against international terrorists. In October, the CIA conducted a missile attack in the country using an unmanned drone aircraft that killed six al Qaeda terrorists.
Yemen's missile arsenal included more than 20 Scuds purchased from Russia, many of which were fired during a 1994 civil war.
Nicholas Kralev contributed to this report.

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