Tanzania's army chief has dismissed reports that North Korean military experts were working in the country in violation of UN sanctions against Pyongyang.
Chief of Defence Forces Gen Davis Mwamunyange said that the Tanzanian army had not engaged engineers from North Korea to repair its Soviet-made MiG-21 fighter jets and other military aircraft as claimed in widely circulated reports.
Online magazine Africa Confidential had on August 2 said that 18 North Korean military technicians and army officers were in Mwanza repairing fighter jets.
There also had been no pressure exerted by either US or South Korean diplomats on Tanzania to end what are claimed to be close military relations between it and North Korea, Gen Mwamunyange added.
"There has been no communications whatsoever from the US or South Korean governments on any such issue. We have not been under any pressure," Gen Mwamunyange told The Citizen newspaper last week during a handover of military vehicles from India.
The report said a North Korean merchant ship that was intercepted in the Panama Canal on July 16 carrying two MiG-21s from the 1950s was headed to Tanzania. The ship reportedly originated from Cuba.
The publication alleged that the US and South Korean governments were pressuring President Jakaya Kikwete’s government to sever any military relations with North Korea.
Earlier, the army said it had no reason to engage North Korean technicians.
"We don’t have any aircraft or other military equipment manufactured in North Korea. Why then should we hire their technicians?" Tanzania People’s Defence Forces (TPDF) spokesperson Major Eric Komba told The Citizen in a telephone interview.
Maj Komba said it did not make sense to hire North Koreans to repair Soviet-manufactured military equipment.
Africa Confidential suggests that Tanzania could be in breach of UN sanctions if indeed it was engaging with North Korea.
The UN Security Council Resolution 1718 was adopted unanimously by the United Nations Security Council on October 14, 2006, and imposes a series of economic and commercial sanctions on North Korea in the aftermath of that nation’s nuclear test of October 9, 2006.
Scrutiny on North Korea became more intense following more missile and nuclear tests by Pyongyang and its threats to attack South Korea and the US.
Contacted, Foreign Affairs minister Bernard Membe, while not denying or confirming the alleged presence of the North Korean engineers, said he doubted if Tanzania would have breached UN sanctions by hiring technicians from that country.
"Try contacting the Minister for Defence and National Service, but I advise you to carefully read the UN resolution in question to see if hiring technicians from North Korea to repair warplanes amounts to violating sanctions,” Mr Membe said in a telephone interview last week.
The UN sanctions have placed bans on imports and exports of North Korea military equipment and “related material, including spare parts” and any other items identified by the sanctions committee. The section does not directly mention personnel.
Africa Confidential reported that while Pyongyang has no diplomatic representation in Tanzania, its two senior officers were seconded to the Tanzanian Peoples Defence Forces..
It claims that the two may also be involved in a private company set up to import arms and quotes a US diplomat in Dar es Salaam as saying that his country was concerned by Tanzania’s “breach” of the UN sanctions.
"US and South Korean diplomats may step up the pressure if discreet contacts do not yield results," the magazine quotes the diplomat saying.
Earlier this year, there were allegations that Iranian tankers were circumventing sanctions by flying the Tanzanian flag, allegations which Dar es Salaam strongly denied.