UN Report Details North Korea's Exploits in Africa, Including Training Cops in Martial Arts

A report to the UN Security Council says North Korea is building munitions factories in Namibia, attempting to send spare missile parts to Egypt, and trying to buy surveillance equipment from the UK.
February 29, 2016, 10:20pm
Foto via KCNA/EPA

North Korea is building munitions factories in Namibia, attempting to send spare missile parts to Egypt, trying to buy surveillance equipment from the UK, and training Ugandan police in martial arts, according to a new UN report.

The Panel of Experts report, delivered to the Security Council last week, was released by the UN on Monday morning. The report says North Korea — officially known as the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) — has not stopped developing "its nuclear ballistic missile programmes, including by improving its testing infrastructure and strengthening the role of the agencies involved."

North Korea's latest nuclear test on January 7, which it claims involved a hydrogen bomb, set off weeks of negotiations between the US and China, culminating in a draft resolution that would authorize additional sanctions on the already-isolated nation.

That draft text was presented to diplomats on February 25, and contains measures that far exceed existing sanctions, including banning the export of commodities such as iron, coal, and rare earth metals, as well as imports of aviation fuels, which the military uses to power missiles. Most severely, the draft resolution would oblige all countries to inspect every piece of cargo entering and leaving North Korea to ensure that it does not contain banned materials. Such a task would largely fall upon China, and Beijing's acquiescence to such a mechanism seemingly indicates growing frustration with its communist neighbor.

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The UN panel, which is charged with monitoring adherence to existing sanctions regimes, also itemized a laundry list of the DPRK 's forays abroad in recent years. The findings included confirmation from local authorities that Uganda hosted 45 North Korean nationals who provided training for the country's paramilitary police as recently as December 2015. In response to the panel's inquiry, Ugandan officials said the training did not violate existing resolutions targeting the DPRK. In a letter sent to the panel, Ugandan officials said the North Koreans were involved in marine rescue training, paramedical training, constructive engineering, and martial arts training.

The panel said, however, that training provided since last April to 400 Ugandan police officers by DPRK nationals — lessons that were publicized on Facebook by Uganda's national police force — did in fact violate a 2009 Security Council resolution.

The report also outlined a 2013 shipment seized en route from Beijing to Cairo that contained "spare parts for or items used in Scud-B missile systems" produced in the DPRK. Members of the panel inspected the contents of shipment, and said the parts had been shipped from Pyongyang on North Korea's national airline. The company listed as shipping the load gave an address in Beijing that's also used by the DPRK embassy.

'The findings included confirmation from local authorities that Uganda hosted 45 North Korean nationals who provided training for the country's paramilitary police as recently as December 2015.'

The panel also reported on arrangements between North Korean companies and the governments of Eritrea and Namibia. Officials in Namibia admitted to investigators that North Koreans were involved in several ventures there, including the construction of a munitions factory in the capital Windhoek. Namibia said that an entity called Mansudae Overseas Project Group was also involved "in several military construction projects," including a military academy and the ongoing construction of the headquarters of the Ministry of Defense.

The panel reported that Mansudae is linked to the Korea Mining Development Trading Corporation (KOMID), which the US Treasury described last year as "North Korea's primary arms dealer and main exporter of goods and equipment related to ballistic missiles and conventional weapons." Namibian authorities said they were not aware of the ties between the two entities.

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The panel also said that as late as August of 2015, North Korean laborers "were undertaking construction activities at another military base in Suider Hof," near Windhoek. At the time of publication, Namibia had not responded the panel regarding those charges. The monitoring body determined that the "construction of any munitions factory or related military facilities" is prohibited under existing resolutions targeting the DPRK.

Other entries in the UN report included an investigation into a United Arab Emirates-based company called Al Mutlaq Technology, which reportedly attempted "to acquire 100 million USD of arms and related materials from KOMID." Emirati authorities confirmed that the company had requested a "100 million dollar quotation" from two China-based North Koreans, but said that no relationship between the Komid and al Mutlaq was ever detected.

The report's annex includes correspondence between North Korean officials and overseas companies, including an roughly-worded email sent by a "Richard Wang" to a British company in an effort to purchase sanctioned "miniaturized optical equipment that could be used in unmanned aerial vehicles." UK customs officials determined that Wang, who identified himself as director of "HK Conie Technology," was part of an effort to procure equipment "through intermediaries based on the mainland [of China] and registered in Hong Kong before onward shipment to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea."

Though that effort failed, it showed the lengths to which the North Korean regime is willing to go to circumvent sanctions. Many of those efforts involve companies or fronts based in China, something it now appears Beijing may be more resolute in combating.

Follow Samuel Oakford on Twitter: @samueloakford