Ship with N. Korean weapons seized enroute to Syria

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

NICOSIA The Republic of Cyprus has stopped a ship full of North Korean weapons systems bound for Syria.

Officials said Greek Cypriot authorities responded to an alert by Interpol to capture a ship bound for Syria from North Korea. They said security agents found a mobile air defense system and components of a missile launcher.

"We will implement the law, nothing more and nothing less," Cypriot Justice Minister Sophocles Sophocleous said on Monday. "And the political position will be expressed by the foreign minister."

This is the first time that the Republic of Cyprus was believed to have seized a suspected weapons ship to Syria, Middle East Newsline reported.

The ship, named the Panamanian-flagged Grigorio-1, reported a consignment of weather-observation equipment, officials said. But Interpol asserted that the freighter contained North Korean weapons systems and asked Nicosia to detain the ship for inspection.

Officials did not identify the North Korean air defense system. But they reported 18 truck-mounted mobile radar systems and three command vehicles.

The ship did not contain any missiles, officials said. They said the vessel carried irrigation pipes as well as components that could be part of a missile launcher.

Officials said Damascus had asked Nicosia to release the seized shipment. They said the ship's manifest does not identify Syria as the consignee.

NATO, which administers a program to halt suspected weapons of mass destruction shipments, has denied participation in the Cypriot operation. NATO has sought partners in Operation Active Endeavor, designed to monitor the Mediterranean for Al Qaida as well as WMD suppliers.

On Monday, NATO hosted the seven-member Mediterranean Dialogue in London in an effort to increase military and security relations. NATO officials, in a conference co-sponsored by the Royal United Services Institute, urged Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia to cooperate with each other and the Western alliance in combating Al Qaida-aligned groups and their sponsors.

The Grigorio-1 was tracked by Interpol for several months, officials said. They said the ship was seized on Sept. 5 when it sailed near Larnaca for refueling.

Officials said Grigorio-1 left North Korea for the Middle East and stopped at several ports. They said the last leg of the journey began from Egypt's Port Said toward the Syrian port of Latakia.

Copyright 2006 East West Services, Inc.

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