Procurement: Syria Caught Sneaking In North Korean Weapons

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September 17, 2006: A cargo ship, the Gregorio 1, headed for Syria, was stopped in Cyprus, on September 5th, because of an Interpol alert that the ship might be involved in weapons smuggling. On the ship were found 18 North Korean mobile (truck mounted) air-defense radar systems, along with three mobile radar command centers. The crated radars was labeled as weather forecasting equipment. The ship was under suspicion because it has changed its name, and country of registration, at least five times in the last five years. The ship was also found visiting North Korean ports. The paperwork on the "weather forecasting equipment" said nothing about Syria, but as soon as the situation became publicly known, Syria demanded that the ship be released, and allowed to deliver its cargo to a Syrian port (of which there are several, just north of Lebanon). Soon, Syria had a team of diplomats on their way to Cyprus, to obtain the release of the radars. Syria is under no arms embargos at the moment, but is being pressured to stop supplying Hizbollah with military equipment.
Syria continues to hold the radars because they were falsely identified. Since the radars are military equipment, Cypriot law is being violated (you cannot bring weapons into Cyprus, or its coastal waters, without permission.) Most likely, the Syrians will have to pay a bribe (probably in the form of a fine) to liberate their radars. North Korea has increasingly been exporting its weapons by air freight, usually via Russia, where the government has not been checking North Korean air shipments for weapons. The bulky radar sets, however, were apparently thought innocuous for shipment by sea, which is a lot cheaper than air freight. Trying to pass the stuff off as weather radars, however, did not work.

 


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