North Korea has been sending Syria equipment that could be used for the manufacture of chemical weapons, a UN report has said.
The reclusive state sent more than 40 unreported shipments to Syria between 2012 and 2017, according to a panel of experts.
They found evidence of “the transfer to Syria of special resistance valves and thermometers known for use in chemical weapons programmes” in August 2016.
They also discovered that a North Korean front company, called Corst, shipped banned goods to a researcher at Syria’s Scientific Studies Research Council, which the US says is the government agency responsible for making non-conventional weapons and the means to deliver them.
One UN member state told the panel it had intelligence that North Korean technicians “continue to operate at chemical weapons and missile facilities at Barzeh, Adra and Hama”.
It comes just days after news of a chemical attack by the Syrian government against the rebel-held enclave of eastern Ghouta, during a 30-day UN-declared ceasefire.
Syria told the panel: “There are no DPRK technical companies in Syria and the only presence of some DPRK individuals are confined in the field of sports under private individual contracts for training athletics and gymnastics.”
It additionally claimed on Wednesday it had no chemical weapons arsenals but “terrorist groups” in the country including al-Nusra and Daesh had obtained some stocks.
US disarmament ambassador Robert Wood, however, said: “Clearly there has been a history of a relationship between North Korea and Syria with regard to missile activity.”
The UN panel also found evidence of trade in other banned goods and components that could be used in the manufacture of conventional weapons and military equipment.
This included 13 shipping containers filled with “acid resistant tiles” which could “be used for activities conducted at high temperatures” or “can be used to build bricks for the interior walls of (a) chemical factory”.
The report detailed visits by North Korean delegations and experts, and cooperation with the regime at missile facilities.
It shed light on North Korea’s broader network of illicit trading, which in nine months last year may have earned it nearly $200m (£144m) in oil, gas and weapons deals in violation of UN sanctions.
It also detailed evidence that the state had shipped conventional weapons including rocket launchers, ballistic missile systems and surface-to-air missiles to Myanmar.
Among those the panel looked at, was the activities of Ryu Jin, a senior official who is on the UN sanctions blacklist.
It said he works in Syria for the Korea Mining Development Trading Corporation, known as KOMID, North Korea’s primary arms dealer and main exporter of goods and equipment related to ballistic missiles and conventional weapons.
In a letter to Syrian Major General Ali Salim of the Army Supply Bureau, the panel say Ryu makes an official proposal for “an air defence command and control system”.
The allegations show a well-established and illegal trade relationship, the report said, facilitated by shell companies and sympathetic individuals and allowing the isolated states to amass weapons and earn fortunes in violation of international sanctions.
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Although experts said the report didn’t prove ongoing chemical weapons collaboration, it was hailed as an “important breakthrough” by former panel member William Newcomb, the New York Times reported.