LONDON – The Tanzanian Minister of Foreign Affairs has refused to confirm or deny allegations that North Korean military technicians are working in his country.
The claims, published initially in the online magazine Africa Confidential on August 2, allege that the Tanzanian military is engaging North Korean experts to repair its Soviet-era MiG-21 fighter jets and help import arms via private front-companies to the East African nation.
If true, the report could mean that Tanzania is in violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1718, which prohibits North Korea from engaging in the trade of a wide range of specified military hardware.
Foreign Minister Bernard Membe on Tuesday would not confirm or deny the report, and argued that if Tanzania were hiring military technicians from the DPRK, they would not be breaching sanctions.
A media spokesman from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs told NK News that the case was being “dealt with at another level” and that Mr. Membe “didn’t have the facts” to confirm or deny the reports.
The Tanzanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs was in the process of “crosschecking with other offices,” such as the Ministry of Defence and the military.
But the U.S. is a close ally of Tanzania and and any military cooperation between Dodoma and Pyongyang would be frowned upon by Washington.
Following a state visit by U.S. President Barack Obama to Tanzania in July, Africa Confidential said that President Kikwete’s government had come under pressure from the United States and South Korea to sever its military ties with North Korea.
But Chief of the Tanzanian Defence Forces General Mwamunyange outright denied these claims, telling the Citizen that Tanzania was under no diplomatic pressure to sever ties with Pyongyang.
“There has been no communications whatsoever from the U.S. or South Korean governments on any such issue,” he said, “we have not been under any pressure.”
A media spokesman from the Tanzanian military also told the Citizen that Tanzania did not possess any North Korean military equipment, asking “Why then should we hire their technicians?”
Africa Confidential claimed that the North Korean ship recently intercepted at the Panama Canal carrying two MiG-21s was bound for Tanzania.
The magazine also alleged that two senior North Korean military officers were on the payroll of the Tanzanian Defence Forces, suggesting the two men could be involved in a private company set up to import arms into Tanzania.
HISTORY OF COOPERATION
Editor of Korean People’s Army Journal and defense analyst Joseph S. Bermudez Jr. told NK News that North Korea and Tanzania have a long history of co-operation, going back to their mutual military support for anti-colonial revolutionary Marxist groups in Southern Africa during the Cold War.
“During that period the DPRK reportedly also provided military advisors to Tanzanian armed forces and internal security,” he said, “and the two countries still exchange small military, technical and scientific delegations”.
“During the recent July celebrations Tanzanian military delegations met with Col. Gen. Jang Jong Nam, Col. Gen. Kang Pyo Yong and other senior KPA officials in Pyongyang,” Bermudez added.
“It would not surprise me if there were a small number of North Korean technicians in Tanzania at the present time.”
North Korea has recently been increasing ties with African nations. On Saturday a delegation led by Foreign Minister Pak Ui Chun left visit unspecified African countries. Earlier this year, NK News revealed the increasing ties between North Korea’s internal security agency and the Ugandan police force.
Main picture: Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Hon. Rhythm J. Maalim greeted by the Acting Ambassador of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea following the death of Kim Jong Il, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation, Tanzania