SEOUL, South Korea - A U.S. Navy destroyer is tailing a North Korean ship suspected of carrying illicit weapons toward Myanmar in what could be the first test of new U.N. sanctions against the North over its recent nuclear test, a leading South Korean TV network said yesterday.
YTN, citing an unidentified intelligence source, said the U.S. suspects the cargo ship Kang Nam is carrying missiles and related parts.
Myanmar's military government, which faces an arms embargo from the United States and the European Union, has reportedly bought weapons from North Korea.
The ship is reportedly the first North Korean vessel to be tracked under the new U.N. sanctions.
YTN said the United States has deployed a destroyer and is using satellites to track the ship, which was expected to travel to Myanmar via Singapore.
South Korea's Defense Ministry, Unification Ministry, and National Intelligence Service said they could not confirm the report. Calls to the U.S. military command in Seoul were not answered late yesterday.
Tensions on the Korean peninsula have spiked since North Korea defiantly conducted its second nuclear explosion May 25. It later declared it would expand its atomic bomb program and threatened war to protest the U.N. sanctions imposed in response to its nuclear test.
The sanctions toughen an earlier arms embargo against North Korea and authorize ship searches in an attempt to thwart its nuclear and ballistic-missile programs.
The Security Council resolution calls on all 192 U.N. member states to inspect vessels on the high seas "if they have information that provides reasonable grounds to believe that the cargo" contains banned weapons or material to make them, and if approval is given by the country whose flag the ship sails under.
If the country refuses to give approval, it must direct the vessel "to an appropriate and convenient port for the required inspection by the local authorities."
A senior U.S. military official said Friday that the USS John S. McCain is close to the North Korean vessel but had no orders to intercept it under the Security Council resolution and had not requested that authority.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive issue of ship movements.
The Navy ship, a guided-missile destroyer, is named after the grandfather and father of former U.S. presidential candidate Sen. John McCain. Both were admirals.
McCain said yesterday that the United States should board the Kang Nam even without North Korean permission if hard evidence shows it is carrying missiles or other cargo in violation of U.N. resolutions.
"It's going to contribute to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction to rogue nations that pose a direct threat to the United States," he said on CBS's Face the Nation.