BANGKOK, Thailand - Thai authorities, reportedly acting on a U.S. tip, seized 35 tons of military weaponry originating from North Korea and charged five foreigners with illegal possession of arms.
Thailand impounded an Ilyushin 76 transport plane, carrying explosives, rocket-propelled grenades, and components for surface-to-air missiles, during a refueling stop at Bangkok's Don Muang airport Saturday.
Four men from Kazakhstan and one from Belarus were detained.
Arms sales are a key source of hard currency for the impoverished North.
Thailand's Foreign Ministry said the country took the action because of a U.N. resolution banning the transport of certain weapons from or to North Korea.
The latest sanctions were imposed in June after the reclusive communist regime conducted a nuclear test and test-fired missiles. The sanctions are aimed at derailing North Korea's nuclear weapons program by depriving it of revenue from sales even of conventional arms.
Baek Seung Joo of South Korea's state-run Korea Institute for Defense Analyses, said North Korea was believed to earn hundreds of millions of dollars every year by selling missiles, missile parts, and other weapons to Iran, Syria, and Myanmar and other countries under international strictures.
The seizure came just days after President Obama's special envoy made an unusual trip to North Korea on a mission to persuade Pyongyang to rejoin six-nation nuclear disarmament talks. Envoy Stephen Bosworth said the two sides had reached understandings on the need to restart the talks.
"There is a possibility that the incident could have a negative effect on moves to get the North to rejoin the six-party talks and a U.S.-North Korea dialogue mood," said Yang Moo Jin, a professor at Seoul's University of North Korean Studies.
Thai Air Force spokesman Capt. Montol Suchookorn said the chartered cargo plane originated in North Korea's capital, Pyongyang, and requested to land at Don Muang airport to refuel.
There were differing local media reports on the plane's destination, with some saying it was headed to Sri Lanka and others Pakistan.
Local news reports said Thai authorities were tipped off by their American counterparts about the cargo aboard the aircraft. U.S. Embassy spokesman Michael Turner declined comment.