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N Korea ‘ships’ chemical weapons to Syria, says UN

Pyongyang, Wednesday

North Korea has been sending equipment to Syria that could be used to make chemical weapons, a UN report says. Some 40 previously unreported shipments were made between 2012 and 2017, the report found.

Materials included acid-resistant tiles, valves and pipes. The leaked report says North Korean missile specialists have been seen at Syrian weapon-making centres. The allegations follow new reports of chlorine being used by Syrian forces, which the government denies. Meanwhile, for a second day, a “pause” in fighting has failed to hold in the Eastern Ghouta region outside Damascus.

The daily five-hour pause was meant to allow aid to enter and civilians to leave the rebel-held area through a humanitarian corridor. But as with Tuesday, the truce was marred by violence. Activists reported hearing missile strikes and barrel bombs, while Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused “militants” of blocking access to the humanitarian corridor.

North Korea is under international sanctions over its nuclear programme. But a confidential report, compiled by a UN Panel of Experts which assesses North Korea’s compliance with UN resolutions, found evidence of illicit supplies sent to Syria.

The report, which has been seen by the BBC, details the “innovative evasion techniques” used by North Korea to send items such as high-heat, acid-resistant tiles, corrosion-resistant valves and thermometers.

The Scientific Studies and Research Center (SSRC) — a Syrian government agency — is alleged to have paid North Korea for the equipment via a number of front companies.

The SSRC is promoted by the Syrian government as a civilian research institute but a Western intelligence agency told the BBC last year that chemical weapons were being manufactured at three SSRC sites — Masyaf, in Hama province, and at Dummar and Barzeh, both just outside Damascus.

Last week, US President Donald Trump said Washington was imposing a fresh set of sanctions on North Korea, targeting more than 50 ships and maritime transport companies in several countries. —BBC

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