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Friday, December 14, 2007       Free Headline Alerts

U.S. report: North Korea apparently supplying Iran-backed group

WASHINGTON The United States believes North Korea has become a major supplier to the Iranian-sponsored Hizbullah.

The U.S. Congress raised the prospect that North Korea was providing weapons, technical assistance and military training to Hizbullah. The Congressional Research Service cited reputable sources that Pyongyang equipped Hizbullah with missiles and rockets used during the war against Israel in 2006.

CRS, which provides independent analysis to Congress, discussed the purported North Korean aid to Hizbullah amid plans by the Bush administration to remove Pyongyang from the State Department list of terrorist sponsors. The report, first obtained by the Reuters news agency, cast doubts on claims that North Korea has ended support for groups deemed terrorists, Middle East Newsline reported.

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"Questions about the credibility of the claim are relevant in view of the appearance of reports from reputable sources that North Korea has provided arms and possibly training to Hizbullah in Lebanon and the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka," the CRS report said.

Hizbullah has been on the State Department list of terrorist organizations. The State Department has asserted that North Korea ended its sponsorship of terrorist groups more than 20 years ago.

CRS said North Korea could have become a major supplier to Hizbullah. The report cited a September 2006 report by Paris Intelligence Online that North Korea provided extensive assistance to Hizbullah.

The North Korean program was said to have begun in the 1980s when Hizbullah fighters were trained in Pyongyang. In 2000, during the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon, the cooperation expanded and North Korean engineers were sent to Lebanon to instruct Hizbullah on the construction of underground facilities to store weapons, food and medical equipment.

Pyongyang was also said to have helped install hundreds of remote-controlled underground 122 mm Katyusha rocket launchers throughout southern Lebanon. The network enabled Hizbullah to elevate a Katyusha launcher from a bunker via hydraulic lift, fire a salvo of rockets and then return underground.

"This significantly improved Hizbullah's ability to fight the Israelis," CRS said.

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