May 12, 2006

Japanese police search North Korean ship for drugs

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan's police and coast guard on Friday
searched a North Korean freighter that they suspected was used
to smuggle hundreds of kilograms of amphetamines from North
Korea in 2002, a coast guard official said.

Japan has been locked in a bitter dispute with North Korea
over the communist state's abductions of Japanese nationals
decades ago to help train spies, and the row has led to calls
in Japan for sanctions against North Korea.

Authorities were searching the North Korean freighter
Turubong 1 at a port in Tottori prefecture in western Japan, a
Coast Guard official said.

The freighter is suspected of having been used to smuggle
amphetamines into Japan from North Korea four years ago, he
said, adding that the search was ongoing and there was still no
word on the results.

A 59-year-old South Korean national, who is thought to have
had contacts with North Korea, and two Japanese nationals
including a gang leader, were arrested on Friday in connection
with the 2002 case, the official said.

"We think...that (the South Korean) had been in charge of
contacting and coordinating with North Korea," said the Coast
Guard official, who asked that his name not be used.

The South Korean is thought to have been on the receiving
end of calls from a mobile phone recovered from a North Korean
spy ship that sank in the East China Sea in 2001 after an
exchange of fire with Japan Coast Guard patrol vessels, the
official said.

Kyodo news agency said all three have denied the

The Coast Guard said in a statement that the Turubong 1 was
used to carry hundreds of kilograms of amphetamines from North
Korea to waters off the Japanese coast, where they were then
dropped into the water.

Another boat retrieved the amphetamines from the water and
brought them into Japan in October 2002, the coast guard said.

Public broadcaster NHK said the Turubong 1 was a 300 tonne
vessel that had been entering a port in western Japan about
once a month since 2000, carrying seafood such as crabs from
North Korea and returning with used bicycles and electronic

"We hope to tighten enforcement of illegal acts by North
Korea, such as drug smuggling," chief cabinet secretary Shinzo
Abe told a news conference.

The arrests and the search came after Japan's ruling
parties submitted to parliament in April a bill requiring the
government to slap economic sanctions on North Korea if it
fails to come clean on the fate of Japanese citizens kidnapped
decades ago.

The bill came amid growing calls from politicians and
activists to punish the reclusive communist state for refusing
to resolve a dispute over Japanese nationals abducted by North
Korean agents in the 1970 and 1980s to train spies.