N. Korean rail explosion foiled missile shipment to Syria

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

A North Korean missile shipment to Syria was halted when a train collision in that Asian country destroyed the missile cargo and killed about a dozen Syrian technicians.

U.S. officials confirmed a report in a Japanese daily newspaper that a train explosion on April 22 killed about a dozen Syrian technicians near the Ryongchon province in North Korea. The officials said the technicians were accompanying a train car full of missile components and other equipment from a facility near the Chinese border to a North Korea port.

A U.S. official said North Korean train cargo was also believed to have contained tools for the production of ballistic missiles. North Korea has sold Syria the extended-range Scud C and Scud D missiles, according to reports by Middle East Newsline.

"The way it was supposed work was that the train car full of missiles and components would have arrived at the port and some would have been shipped to Syria while others would have been transported by air," an official said.

Officials said the North Korean shipment to Syria was not meant to have contained chemical or biological weapons. They said foreign rescue crews summoned to the train explosion did not report any chemical contamination.

The explosion was said to have been caused by a collision of two trains. The collision downed an electrical power line, the sparks from which detonated the fuel from the train.

On May 4, the Tokyo-based Sankei Shimbun quoted a military source that reported the death of the Syrian technicians. The newspaper said North Korean military personnel, wearing protective suits, removed the vestiges of the destroyed equipment meant for Syria.

The technicans were representatives of Syria's Center for Scientific Research, which has been cited for helping develop that country's weapons of mass destruction program. The technicians were said to have been trained in North Korea to operate the equipment.

Sankei said the bodies of the Syrians were flown home by a Syrian aircraft, which had arrived in Pyongyang to deliver aid supplies. The newspaper said North Korean personnel were also killed in the explosion.

Copyright 2004 East West Services, Inc.

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