- The Washington Times - Monday, June 22, 2009

SEOUL | Myanmar is thought to be the destination of a North Korean ship suspected of carrying weapons, in violation of U.N. sanctions, a leading TV network said Sunday.

The South Korean news network YTN, citing an unidentified intelligence source in the South, said the United States suspects the cargo ship Kang Nam is carrying missiles and related parts.

Myanmar’s military government, which faces an arms embargo from the United States and the European Union, has reportedly bought weapons from North Korea.

YTN said that a U.S. destroyer is shadowing the ship and that satellites are also being used to track the vessel, which was expected to travel to Myanmar via Singapore. Singapore has said it would inspect the ship if it stops there.

South Korea’s Defense Ministry, Unification Ministry and National Intelligence Service said they could not confirm the television report. Calls to the U.S. military command in Seoul were not answered late Sunday.

Two U.S. officials said Thursday that the U.S. military had begun tracking the ship, which left a North Korean port Wednesday and was traveling off the coast of China.

One of the officials said that it was uncertain what the Kang Nam was carrying but that the ship had been involved in weapons proliferation before. Both spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence.

Tensions on the Korean peninsula have spiked since the North defiantly conducted its second nuclear explosion on May 25. It later declared that it would expand its atomic bomb program and threatened war to protest the U.N. sanctions imposed in response to its nuclear test.

The sanctions toughen an earlier arms embargo against North Korea and authorize ship searches in an attempt to thwart its nuclear and ballistic-missile programs.

The Security Council resolution calls on all 192 U.N. member states to inspect vessels on the high seas “if they have information that provides reasonable grounds to believe that the cargo” contains banned weapons or material to make them and if approval is given by the country whose flag the ship sails under.

If the country refuses to give approval, it must direct the vessel “to an appropriate and convenient port for the required inspection by the local authorities.”

A senior U.S. military official told the Associated Press on Friday that a Navy ship, the USS John S. McCain, is relatively close to the North Korean vessel but had no orders to intercept it under the Security Council resolution and had not requested that authority. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive issue of ship movements.

The Navy ship, a guided-missile destroyer, is named after the grandfather and father of former U.S. presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican. Both were admirals.

“I think we should board it. It’s going to contribute to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction to rogue nations that pose a direct threat to the United States,” Mr. McCain, a former Navy captain, said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

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