Uganda, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Eritrea are the subject of a United Nations investigation over possible arms-related dealings with North Korea, in violation of sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council.
But Uganda, which has been indicted by the same panel before, is putting up a bold face, saying the international community should not dictate who it relates with.
The UN Panel of Experts, in their latest report, claim that North Korea has developed sophisticated ways to circumvent UN sanctions, including the suspected use of its embassies and private companies to facilitate illegal trade in weapons.
The report, compiled by a panel of eight experts, questions a recent agreement between Kampala and Pyongyang on the training the Uganda Police and the UN has sent a team to establish what exactly the training entails.
The Panel said it had identified a possible connection between an Ethiopian ammunition producer and an entity from the North Korea, which may be in violation of the arms embargo.
The experts further claim that 18 military technicians from North Korea were involved in the refurbishment of Tanzanian F-7 fighter jets and other military aircraft at the Mwanza Air Force base.
The report is part of an annual accounting of North Korea’s compliance with UN sanctions imposed in response to Pyongyang’s banned nuclear weapons and missile programmes. The panel reports to the UN Security Council.
Its report cites boxes of 14.5mm machine gun ammunition manufactured in North Korea found in the stores of the African Union Peacekeeping Mission in Somalia.
Though they did not determine when the ammunition entered Somalia, the Panel said they established that it was part of a consignment of 600 boxes originally delivered to Libya as part of a contract established in 1977.
“Nevertheless, because the date of entry into Libya was unknown, the Monitoring Group concluded it could not be established whether there had been a violation of the arms embargo on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,” reads part of the report.
The investigation in Uganda comes a year after Kampala signed an agreement with North Korea to continue giving specialised training to the countries police.
North Korea has trained the police on martial arts since 1987.
In January, the UN experts wrote requesting that Kampala furnish them with details of the training the North Koreans are providing to the force.
The letter was the second in three months. The Panel first sent a request for information to Uganda in November 2013. In December 2013, the Ugandan authorities replied, denying violating the sanctions.
Uganda said the Koreans trained on martial arts, marine rescue and security and technical courses for the Ugandan Police Special Force, such as construction, criminal and forensic investigations.
The panel is however not satisfied.
Foreign Affairs Permanent Secretary James Mugume confirmed that the UN last year sent in its officials to investigate Uganda’s dealings with North Korea.
But he said that Kampala will not sever relations with North Korea because of the sanctions on Pyongyang.
“Countries are not like people. The fact that you have an enemy does not mean he is our enemy,” said Mr Mugume.
In Ethiopia, cited a company that makes bullets, tank shells and mortar bombs as one dealing with North Korea.
On Tanzania, the UN agents said: “The Panel confirmed that the Tanzanian People’s Defence Force Air Wing has around 10 F-755 fighter jet aircraft based at Mwanza Air Force Base and that new facilities to store these aircraft had recently been constructed, a strong indication that the aircraft are operationally maintained. The Panel is awaiting a response to a request for information sent to the Tanzanian authorities in November 2013.”
The report makes reference to a media report by Online magazine Africa Confidential last year that the 18 North Korean military technicians and army officers were in Mwanza repairing fighter jets.
Africa Confidential reported that while Pyongyang has no diplomatic representation in Tanzania, its two senior officers were seconded to the Tanzanian Peoples Defence Forces.
The publication also claimed that the two may also be involved in a private company set up to import arms and quoted a US diplomat in Dar es Salaam as saying that his country was concerned by Tanzania’s “breach” of the UN sanctions.
Dar es Salaam strongly denied the allegations.
“Tanzania has no trade relations with North Korea. UN sanctions are specific: They are about trade, and we don’t have any trade dealings with North Korea,” said Mkumbwa Ally, the head of government communication in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
“We have not heard anything about investigations being made, may be the Tanzania People’s Defence Forces may know better, but if it comes up formally, we will respond accordingly.”
Much of the 127-page report focuses on North Korea’s overseas trade networks. The report also notes that North Korea’s embassies abroad play a key role in aiding shadowy companies.
The North Korean People’s Security minister Ri Song Chol visited Uganda last year and held a closed-door meeting with President Museveni, the Police chief and later took pictures, holding a tear gas gun with other anti-riot gear on the table.
Ri told the press that North Korea was glad to hear Uganda’s appreciation of North Korean security initiatives. Uganda said it admired North Koreans resilience despite the sanctions.
Though it has close ties with the western nations, Uganda has maintained ties with North Korea and its visibility in Uganda is growing rapidly.
In the past, North Korea has provided military support in terms of both loans and ammunition. In 1987, it gave a military a $4million loan and also sent 40 military advisors to Uganda.
Also in 1989, President Museveni exchanged coffee and cotton for weapons.
While South Korea is reaping benefits from trade with Uganda, North Korea has focused on security.
North Korea trained several marine police officers at the height of the dispute between Uganda and Kenya over the Migingo Island.