SEOUL – Missing Pakistani nuclear scientists may be staying in North Korea to help develop the Stalinist country’s uranium-based nuclear weapons program, reports said on Sunday.
Yonhap news agency, citing a report from the state-run Korea Institute for National Unification (KINU) in Seoul, said North Korea might have achieved a higher level of technology for enriched uranium with the help of foreign scientists.
“Nine Pakistani nuclear scientists have been missing since they left their country six years ago and we cannot rule out the possibility that some of them are in North Korea,” KINU researcher Jeon Sung-Hun was quoted as saying.
North Korea’s highly enriched uranium program was at an early stage in its development, he said.
“However, we should be prepared to find that North Korea has received a level of technology and cooperation from Pakistan, Russia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine and Belarus which surpasses general expectations,” he added.
Pakistani nuclear expert Abdul Qadeer Khan said in April that he had visited North Korea in 1999 and saw “three nuclear devices” at a secret underground plant.
Khan, a one-time national hero credited with making Pakistan a nuclear power, has admitted selling nuclear secrets abroad but was pardoned by President Pervez Musharraf.
In May, the New York Times reported that North Korea secretly provided Libya in early 2001 with nearly two tonnes of uranium which can be enriched to nuclear bomb grade.
The nuclear stand-off on the Korean peninsula flared in October 2002 when Washington accused North Korea of running a secret nuclear program based on enriched uranium.
North Korea has acknowledged having a plutonium program but denies that it is enriching uranium to make nuclear fuel. It has rejected US demands for a complete dismantling of its nuclear programs without receiving rewards first.