Saturday, September 25, 2004

Chemical used in nerve gas shipped to North Korea

The BBC quotes the South Korean news agency Yonhap as reporting that a chemical used in nerve gas has been shipped from South Korea to North Korea via China. According to the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Energy on Friday, 107 tons of sodium cyanide were shipped by a South Korean company in China, without government approval, sometime between June 2003 and this month. The entire amount was then re-exported to North Korea by the Chinese company. Sodium Cyanide, when treated with acid, can become a nerve agent that causes loss of consciousness, paralysis and death. South Korea is a member of the Australia Group, a group of 39 countries that have agreed to enforce export control measures on sodium cyanide and other chemicals to reduce the risk of the proliferation of chemical and biological weapons.

The South Korean Commerce Ministry is also looking into a separate allegation that 40 tons of sodium cyanide were shipped to the North by a Malaysian company. The confirmation of illegal exports came after denials on Monday that North Korea had imported sodium cyanide from Thailand, though the North Koreans had attempted to get 70 tons of the chemical from Thailand just last May.

Since 2002, South Korea has exported 146,000 tons of sodium cyanide to ten countries, including China, Thailand, Russia and Indonesia. The largest shipment of 42,300 tons was sent to China.

SOURCE: Yonhap news agency, Seoul, in English 0224 gmt 24 Sep 04

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