Plane Carrying Weapons under Command of Belarusian Pilot Detained in Thailand
An Ilyushin Il-76 aircraft was detained by Thai authorities after a search in which 35 tons of weaponry including rocket-propelled grenades, missiles and other war weapons and 12 containers with ammunition, was found.
On Sunday morning Thai authorities informed about detention of the plane with the crew, four citizens of Kazakhstan and one citizen of Belarus. They are suspected of intention to bring armaments from North Korea to South Asia.
On Monday, December 14 the Criminal Court of Bangkok extended the term of detention for the crew of Il-76, Associated Press informs. The crew, Alexander Zrybnev, Viktor Abdullayev, Vitaly Shumkov and Ilyas Isakov from Kazakhstan, and Mikhail Petukhov from Belarus, will be sent to Bangkok’s Klong Prem Special Prison.
As stated by Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban, who oversees security affairs, the cargo plane is requested a stop in Bangkok to refuel. "They claimed they thought they were transporting heavy equipment for oil rigs, but after a search we found out there was only weaponry there," Deputy Prime Minister said as France Press reports.
On Sunday Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said official charges would be filed against the five suspects. He this case involved many laws and Bangkok had to comply with the United Nations (UN) resolution. A report would be filed with the UN within 45 days.
As said by him, the crew committed two crimes. "Firstly, they gave false information about their cargo, and secondly it turned out their cargo was armaments".
Thai authorities say the plane picked up the North Korean ammunition in North Korean capital of Pyongyang, and was heading for Sri Lanka. It is still unknown where the plane was ultimately heading. "We only know they were to refuel in Sri Lanka," Thai government head said.
Earlier journalists reported suppositions of Thai officials that the destination could be one of South Asian countries, probably Pakistan.
As stated by the pilot Mikhail Pastukhov, it was a charter plane flying from Ukraine to North Korea and back. En route to Pyongyang, the plane refuelled three times - in Azerbaijan, the United Arab Emirates and Thailand. On it sway back after receiving the cargo the plane was to stop in Thailand and Sri Lanka.
Whose plane it was?
As reported by BBC, authorities have yet to confirm where the aircraft, registered 4L-AWA, originated. At this stage they believe it was registered in Georgia, or Russia, as stated by Bangkok Post with reference to Thailand authorities.
As reported by France Press, Prime Minister of Thailand confirmed that the weapons origin was North Korea, and the plane was registered in Georgia. At the same time, some journalists do not exclude that the official reports about registration could be misleading.
"One of the suspects said to authorities that the plane left Russia to North Korea, where the weapons was loaded," Bangkok Post reports.
Meanwhile, the spokesperson of the Foreign Ministry of Kazakhstan said to RIA Novosti that official Astana checks information disseminated by some mass media that the plane is registered in Kazakhstan.
The agency adds that Thai police gave passport details of the detainees to the Russian Embassy. The plane commander is Belarusian citizen, and others have passports of Kazakhstan.
On a tip-off from US
Kazakhstan is closely checking developments. "We can neither confirm nor reject this [registration] information so far. We are clarifying the circumstances of the incident through diplomatic channels, and the possibility of the aircraft's affiliation with Kazakh air companies," Kazakh Foreign Ministry spokesman Ilyas Omarov told RIA Novosti.
An unnamed representative of Thai authorities told to Reuters the plane was detained after information of the US security service. "The US addressed us to help in searching the suspicious plane," the agency was told by its source.
Thailand has also appeared in another high-profile case related to arms trafficking. In March 2008 Viktor Bout, a Russians citizen, was arrested in this country. He is considered by the US one of the key players at the global illegal arms market.
In August this year Thai prosecutor’s office stated they would challenge the decision of the court which refused to deliver But to the US.