BANGKOK- Thailand dropped charges on Thursday against the crew of a plane that was found to contain 35 tonnes of weapons from North Korea, a shipment that breached a U.N. resolution banning arms exports from the communist state.
Prosecutors decided against charging the crew -- four Kazakhs and a Belarussian -- because there was no evidence to suggest the weapons would be used in Thailand and their indictment would not be of any benefit to the country.
The case has been shrouded in secrecy since the plane was impounded on Dec. 11 when it made a refuelling stop at Bangkok's Don Muang airport.
The shipment contravened United Nations Security Council resolution 1874, which was introduced last June and outlaws sales and export of North Korean arms. The measures were in response to its nuclear and long-range missile tests.
However, the resolution does not stipulate what measures should be taken by the arresting country against individuals involved in the transportation of weapons.
They may be guilty but we are not indicting them because there is no evidence they are using Thailand as a base or transferring weapons here, Kayasit Pissawongprakan, director general of Thailand's attorney general's office, told reporters.
This case does not involve Thailand and an indictment would not be beneficial for relations with those countries, he said, adding the crew would be deported, as requested by their home countries, which had promised further investigation.
Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban said last week Thailand was waiting for guidance from the United Nations on what to do with the weapons, but insisted their final destination remained a mystery.
A confidential report by the Thai authorities sent to the U.N. Security Council and seen by Reuters said the cargo included rockets, fuses, rocket launchers and rocket-propelled grenades bound for Iran.
Thai law enforcement agencies, normally keen to publicise high-profile seizures or arrests, have been reluctant to comment on the case. Some security officials have warned the seizure could threaten national security and make the country a target for terrorists.
The crew members were initially charged with possession of arms but repeatedly denied knowledge of the weapons or where they were headed. They said the plane was en route to Sri Lanka and the Middle East, but did not know the final destination.
U.S. lawmakers are concerned about North Korea's close missile cooperation with Iran. Arms are a vital export for North Korea, its biggest sales coming from ballistic missiles.
(Writing by Ambika Ahuja; Editing by Martin Petty and Sanjeev Miglani)