BANGKOK (AP) — The crew of a cargo plane loaded with weapons from North Korea was ordered Friday to remain in a Thai prison for 12 more days, as authorities request more time to investigate the plane’s cargo and final destination.
The five crew members — four from Kazakhstan and one from Belarus — insist their destination was Sri Lanka and not Iran, contradicting a report from arms trafficking experts.
The crew also says they thought they were carrying oil-drilling equipment, rather than 35 tons of explosives, rocket-propelled grenades and components for surface-to-air missiles, as the Thai government initially reported. Full details of the weapons and where they were manufactured have not been disclosed.
“We need more time to investigate and interrogate,” said police Maj. Sompot Khempeth, after the Bangkok Criminal Court accepted a police request to extend the crew’s detention an additional 12 days. They can be held up to 84 days.
The crew members have been charged with illegal arms possession. They were not present at court and were to be informed of the ruling via video conference later in the day, Sompot said.
Thai authorities, acting on a U.S. tip, impounded the Ilyushin Il-76 cargo plane Dec. 12 during a refueling stop in Bangkok. They seized the weapons and transferred them to a Thai military base for inspection.
The Thai government has been investigating the arms cache and says it will send the results to the United Nations.
The U.N. imposed sanctions in June banning North Korea from exporting any arms after the communist regime conducted a nuclear test and test-fired missiles. Impoverished North Korea is believed to earn hundreds of millions of dollars every year by selling missiles, missile parts and other weapons to countries like Iran, Syria and Myanmar.