The Daily Telegraph

Alarm over North Korea's secret deal for Congo uranium

NORTH Korea is believed to be obtaining uranium for its secret nuclear weapons programme in return for providing military training to the Congo.

For several months North Korea has been supplying troops and training Congolese soldiers engaged in one of Africa's bloodiest civil wars. US and South African intelligence sources fear that Laurent Kabila, the cash-strapped President of the Democratic Republic of Congo, may have given North Korea access to the country's largest uranium mine as payment.

The director of a British mining company in the Congo told The Telegraph that his workers had seen North Korean soldiers in Shinkolobwe, a mining town 100 miles north of the capital, which provided uranium for the Hiroshima bomb.

Richard Cornwall, from the South African Institute for Security Studies, said: "We know that there have been North Koreans in that area and they are definitely training government forces, but whether they are soldiers or miners we do not know and we can only speculate what they are getting in exchange."

The reports have strengthened suspicions that Pyongyang has been seeking new sources of uranium for its nuclear programme, which was supposed to have been shelved in 1994 after the signing of a non-proliferation agreement with the United States.

A Congressional report released in November warned that North Korea had improved its nuclear capabilities in the past five years and now had the missile capability to strike the United States. "It is clear that North Korea can deliver a weapon of mass destruction not just to Seoul, but also to Seattle," it said.

The report cited "significant evidence that undeclared nuclear weapons development activity continues, including efforts to acquire uranium and uranium-enrichment technologies".

According to US intelligence officials, one of these sources may be the mineral-rich Congo. Shinkolobwe uranium is very high-grade. However mining experts point out that the Shinkolobwe mine has not been in use for some years and is thought to have suffered severe flooding, which would take some time to remove.

That one of the world's leading pariah states should have entered into a deal with one of the most unstable countries in Africa is ringing alarm bells not only in Washington. The last time North Korean soldiers were in Africa was to train Zimbabwe's notorious Fifth Brigade, which massacred thousands in Matabeleland in the 1980s.

Robert Mugabe, the President of Zimbabwe, who has committed some 8,000 troops to propping up the Congolese government, apparently put Kabila in touch with the North Koreans. Pyongyang's involvement has heightened fears that the conflict in the Congo may spill over into neighbouring countries. Kabila has been locked in civil war since August 1998, a year after overthrowing the late dictator, Mobutu Sese Seko.

He is supported by Zimbabwe, Angola and Namibia, while the rebels are backed by Uganda and Rwanda. A ceasefire signed in July continues to be violated by both sides. A curfew was recently reintroduced in Kinshasa, though seasonal rains mean heavy fighting is unlikely to get under way again until March.

Kinshasa's military build-up, including the purchase of Scud missiles from Iran, is increasing suspicions that Kabila is planning an attack on Rwanda. At a recent ceremony to inaugurate the training of an army of 20,000 volunteers, he said: "You must have weapons because you will quickly wipe away the enemies of the people."

Mr Cornwall warned: "The North Korean presence is a great worry given their history in the region and also because of fears that they might infiltrate the Great Lakes region. Burundi is on a knife-edge and anything could spark another genocide such as that of 1994, which could then easily spread to Rwanda and southern Uganda."