Conflict & Justice

North Korea attempts to sell gas masks to Assad


A Syrian rebel tries on a gas mask seized from a Syrian army factory in the northwestern province of Idlib on July 18, 2013. Western countries say they have handed over evidence to the UN that Bashar al-Assad's forces have used chemical arms in the two-year conflict. More than 100,000 people have died in the conflict, which morphed from a popular movement for change into an insurgency after the regime unleashed a brutal crackdown on dissent.


Daniel Leal-Olivas

Yesterday, the Sankei Shimbun, a Japanese newspaper known for its North Korea coverage, reported an astounding allegation: that last April, Turkish authorities seized a mysterious ship under a Libyan flag. It was en route to Turkey from North Korea carrying gas masks, 30,000 rounds of ammunition and 1,400 pistols and rifles.

From Turkey, the materiel would make its way to Syria, according to the ship’s captain.

The announcement comes as Obama weighs his military options in the Middle Eastern nation. Washington says it has evidence that the Assad regime used chemical weapons in a suburb of Damascus last week.

Under United Nations sanctions, North Korea is barred from selling weapons. South Korean defense expert Shin In-kyun told The Los Angeles Times that gas masks are considered weaponry, and that the sale could show “the Syrian government was contemplating the use of chemical weapons.”

If true, the allegation wouldn’t be entirely surprising. North Korea and Syria have a history of military cooperation stretching back to the 1970s.

More recently, unconfirmed reports have suggested that between 11 and 15 North Korean military advisers are operating in Syria. In 2010, a United Nations report even accused Pyongyang of offering nuclear and ballistic missile technology to Syria and Iran.