'North Koreans went to Pakistan for nuclear study'

January 01 2004 at 08:30AM

Reuters, reprinted in iol.co.za

Tokyo - North Korea, involved in a crisis over its nuclear weapons programme, sent three engineers to Pakistan in 1999 to study uranium enrichment technology, a leading Japanese newspaper reported on Thursday.

Quoting South Korean intelligence sources, the Mainichi Shimbun said the three went to a nuclear institute in Pakistan headed at that time by Abdul Qadeer Khan, the father of Pakistan's atom bomb.

It added that the purpose of their visit was to study how to prevent radioactive damage in the process of uranium enrichment.

No further details were given, but the newspaper noted that North Korea and Pakistan have denied such links in the past.

The UN's nuclear watchdog has been investigating a possible Pakistan-Iran nuclear link, and diplomats and arms experts have told Reuters that suspicions are growing that Pakistani individuals may also have helped North Korea get enrichment know-how and hardware.

Pakistan's government said on December 22 that Khan was being questioned about reports of possible links to Iran.

The report comes as officials from nations including China and the United States are working on a schedule for six-way negotiations on North Korea's nuclear arms programme.

The nuclear crisis involving North Korea erupted in October 2002 when US officials said Pyongyang had admitted to a covert weapons programme.