Thailand's seizure of a North Korean arms shipment after an apparent US tip-off shows continuing pressure on the communist state to scrap its nuclear weaponry, South Korean commentaries said on Monday.
Four Kazakhs and a Belarussian detained after flying into Bangkok on a cargo plane carrying 30 tonnes of sanctions-busting weapons were due to appear in court on Monday in Thailand.
The cache, including missiles and rocket-propelled grenades, was found after the plane landed for refuelling at Bangkok's Don Mueang airport on Friday. Thai media reported authorities moved after receiving intelligence from the US.
Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said the weapons came from a North Korean company and the plane began its journey in Pyongyang. Its final destination was unclear.
Thai officials said they were enforcing a United Nations resolution passed in June following North Korean missile and nuclear tests, which bans export of conventional heavy weaponry.The seizure came after US envoy Stephen Bosworth returned from talks in Pyongyang aimed at restarting stalled nuclear disarmament talks.
In the summer the US navy for three weeks tracked a North Korean freighter suspected of carrying banned cargo and believed bound for Myanmar. The ship turned back in July.In August, weapons, including rocket-propelled grenades, were found on a ship seized by the United Arab Emirates while travelling from North Korea to Iran.
"Having difficulty earning foreign currency due to continued international sanctions, North Korea seems to be diversifying its means of transporting weaponry," a Seoul government official told Dong-A Ilbo newspaper.
"This case sends a clear message to North Korea that the international community, including the other five nations in the six-party talks, is adopting a two-track approach -- dialogue for dialogue and pressure for pressure," the official added, referring to talks involving the two Koreas, Japan, China, the US and Russia.
Pyongyang spends most of its earnings from arms exports in developing weapons of mass destruction, the unidentified official said.
The US State Department says the North is thought to earn hundreds of millions of dollars from the unreported sale of missiles and other illicit activities.Chosun Ilbo newspaper said in an editorial that if the North believes international monitoring of its secret arms trade will weaken with the advent of a US-North Korea dialogue, "it is a wrong judgement."
The Korea Herald also noted the weapons seizure came on the heels of the first official dialogue between Pyongyang and the Obama administration."The incident... exposed North Korea's duplicity," its editorial said.
On the other hand, the fact that the Thai authorities inspected the cargo on a tip-off from the United States shows Washington's resolve to continue with UN sanctions while engaging in dialogue with North Korea.
"Perhaps the seizure of the arms cargo will drive home the message to the leadership in Pyongyang that it really does not have much choice but to return to the aid-for-denuclearisation talks."