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N. Korean militia units fighting in Syria – opposition delegate

Two North Korean militia units are fighting in Syria in support of Bashar Al-Assad’s government in that country’s civil war, Russian news agency TASS reported Tuesday.

Asaad Al-Zoubi, head delegate of the High Negotiations Committee (HNC) of the Syrian opposition, reported the presence of North Korean militia units in Syria while attending peace talks at the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva.

According to Al-Zoubi, the two units are known as “Cholma-1” and “Cholma-7” (written as Chalma by some sources). The name Cholma means “iron horse” in Korean.

The opposition forces fighting the Al-Assad regime consider the presence of foreign troops supporting Al-Assad to be a serious threat.

“North Korean troops are fatally dangerous,” Al-Zoubi explained.

The report has not been yet verified by any other source. The years of continual warfare in Syria have made it increasingly difficult to accurately confirm or refute such presences and activity within the country.

If true, such operations could constitute a violation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1874 – adopted in 2009 – and UNSC Resolution 2270 – adopted earlier this month. Paragraph 9 of Resolution 2270 prohibits “the procurement from the DPRK of technical training, advice, services or assistance related to the provision, manufacture, maintenance or use of arms and related materiel.”

This is not the first time North Korea has been accused of assisting Al-Assad’s regime in the Syrian civil war, which was been waged since spring of 2011. In August 2013, a Libyan vessel was intercepted en-route to Syria carrying North Korean gas masks and small arms. In October 2013, former president of the Syrian Opposition Council Burhan Ghalioun said North Korean pilots were flying in the Syrian Air Force. In January 2014, Jane’s Defence Weekly reported North Korea was assisting Syrian in improving missile capabilities.

Although North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has publicly expressed his full support for Al-Assad, Pyongyang has denied any involvement in the Syrian civil war.

North Korea and Syria have a history of cooperation and friendship dating back to 1966, when the two countries first established diplomatic relations. North Korea and Syria have cooperated on the development of chemical weapons and North Korea has provided support in the form of arms and military advisors both to Syria itself and through Syria to non-state groups in the Middle East.

Pyongyang also helped Syria covertly build a nuclear reactor, based on the one at Yongbyon, in Deir ez-Zor in eastern Syria during the mid-2000s. The Israeli intelligence agency, Mossad, and other foreign intelligence services discovered the reactor and North Korea’s involvement and, in 2007, the Israeli Air Force destroyed the reactor in a precision air strike called Operation Orchard.

In recent years, amidst the ongoing civil war in Syria and North Korea’s continual pursuit of nuclear weapons and ballistic missile development, ties between the two countries have shown signs of strengthening, with numerous delegations and agreements between the two.

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